Personal Injury Timeline
Accidents and injuries are, at the very least, inconvenient. Causes of accidents vary vastly, as do their injuries. Even with a seemingly minor injury there is always the unfortunate chance that it could develop into something much more debilitating. The time of a personal injury case rests on this uncertainty, but can also be prolonged by the other party’s cooperation (or lack thereof). The process generally takes anywhere from six months to two years, give or take.
Seek Medical Attention
You should always seek medical attention immediately after an accident or injury. Regardless of how slight you think your injury is, it could always be more serious. After an accident, you may go into a state of shock, preventing you from immediately feeling pain. Or you may ignore a bruise that is in fact indicative of internal bleeding. Not only does this put your health at risk, but the longer you wait to seek medical attention, the harder it will be to later prove that the accident actually caused your injury. Even if you are able to prove that the accident was the initial cause of your injury, failing to seek medical attention immediately may prevent you from being fully compensated for neglecting to promptly treat the initial injury. It is therefore vital you seek medical attention immediately to increase your chances of a full recovery.
Consult with an Attorney
While calling the insurance company may seem like the next logical step, you should consult with a personal injury attorney first. Personal injury attorneys offer free consultations and will assess whether you have a viable personal injury case, advise you on your options, and estimate your case value. The majority of people who choose to independently settle their claim with an insurance adjuster receive a much lower settlement than those working with an experienced personal injury attorney. An attorney will not only deal with insurance adjusters for you, but will negotiate the highest settlement amount. If an attorney believes you are entitled to a larger settlement, they will give you the option to accept the settlement amount or file a lawsuit to pursue the full value of your case. Once you decide to retain an attorney it will be on a contingent fee arrangement.
Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)
To more accurately determine your case value and thus the compensation you deserve, attorneys refer to a legal concept called Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). MMI is defined as “the point when a condition cannot be improved any further or when a plateau in a person’s healing process is reached.” Basically, this means that you should wait six months before you consider settling your claim. Documented complaints lasting six months can establish a permanent impairment, which plays an important role in establishing a comprehensive case value (future medical needs, lost wages, pain and suffering). You should also be aware that if you settle your case before undergoing a related surgery, you will not be compensated for that surgery – settling your case prevents you from asking for additional compensation.
File an Insurance Claim or Demand Settlement
Generally, claims are filed against the at fault-party’s insurance company. After doing so, a claims adjuster will be assigned to investigate the claim and try to negotiate the settlement. In some instances, your attorney will send a demand letter to the other party demanding a settlement for your injuries. This generally happens when the other party does not have insurance, or an insurance company is not involved.
File a Personal Injury Lawsuit
When a settlement cannot be reached, the next option is filing a lawsuit. Under New York Statute, a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within three years of your injury or accident. Filing a lawsuit can motivate the other party to increase their settlement offer to avoid the costs of litigation or a hefty jury verdict. Your attorney will file a complaint on your behalf. The other party will then file an answer to the complaint, along with any counterclaims they may have (which your attorney will to respond to). For more information on whether you should go to trial click here.
Discovery is the pre-trial process where the parties exchange evidence and information. This will help both parties form their arguments and predict their chances of attaining a favorable outcome at trial. This will often motivate the parties to settle before trial as it will expose the weaknesses and strengths of their cases and provides a more inclusive expectation of what the actual value of the case is. Discovery includes interrogatories, depositions and independent medical examinations (IME). Interrogatories are written questions submitted to opposing parties and require a response. Depositions are essentially interviews under oath which deposes both parties and witnesses. An IME is a medical evaluation given by the other party’s doctor of choice to assess your injuries. The discovery process is a lengthy one.
Mediation and Arbitration
Mediation and arbitration are two approaches to attaining a pre-trial settlement. Mediation is where the parties agree upon a neutral third-party to help the parties come to a settlement. The settlement will only be binding if both parties agree to written terms and is signed by both parties. Arbitration, on the other hand, is always binding. Arbitration is a hearing conducted by a neutral third-party (who is often a retired judge or esteemed lawyer). Mediation is never required, but judges may suggest it if they believe a settlement is within reach.
If no settlement can be reached, then the case goes to trial. However, the parties are able to settle any time up until the final judgment is rendered. The length of trials vary vastly, ranging from hours to months. Trials can be unpredictable, but the best way to protect your best interests is by choosing an experienced attorney to represent you.