Personal injury claims do not proceed according to a rigid timeline. Instead, the procedure varies according to the claimant’s goals and the circumstances of the case. Since most people prefer settlement over a trial, the process usually starts with efforts to settle, with litigation used as a last resort.
Steps To Take After an Accident
Ideally, your personal injury claim process should begin immediately after the accident. Of course, if your injuries are serious enough, there might be nothing you can do.
To the extent you can, take the following steps after an accident:
- Evaluate your injuries. When in doubt, seek medical care. Remember that some injuries, such as head and neck injuries, can take hours or even days to manifest symptoms. Seek immediate medical treatment.
- Call 911 and cooperate when the police arrive. If you are involved in a car accident, do not leave the scene of the accident.
- Identify witnesses and get their contact details.
- If you can identify a possible at-fault party, get their contact details and insurance information.
- Take photos of the accident scene and any injuries or property damage.
Over the next few days, contact a Las Vegas personal injury lawyer for an initial consultation and request a copy of the accident report, if any.
Receive Medical Treatment
You need evidence of your medical treatment to obtain full compensation for your injuries.
Pay attention to the following:
- Keep all of your medical bills in a file.
- Keep a “pain journal” where you detail your pain and how your injury affects your daily life.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter so that the opposing party cannot blame you for exacerbating your injuries.
- Obtain a copy of your medical records, or let your lawyer do this for you.
If your medical bills are exorbitant, you might need to arrange for a medical lien to take care of your debt while you await a settlement or verdict.
The Initial Consultation With a Las Vegas Personal Injury Lawyer
The purpose of an initial consultation is the same for both you and your lawyer: to size up the value of your claim. Your claim is worth more if your injuries are severe and difficult to treat.
For most Las Vegas personal injury attorneys, initial consultations are free of charge. The lawyer likely uses a contingency fee system, which works something like a commission does for a sales associate. Under a contingency fee arrangement, your lawyer takes about one-third of your financial recovery as their legal fee.
Since one-third of zero is still zero, you only pay legal fees if you win your claim. Your lawyer will likely also expect reimbursement for any case expenses, such as the cost of hiring an expert witness. If you decide to hire a lawyer, read the fee agreement carefully.
Preliminary Investigation and Evidence Collection
After accepting your case, your lawyer will begin investigating your claim and gathering evidence. They might require some evidence from you.
Typical evidence that lawyers look for at this stage includes:
- Your medical records
- The accident report, if any
- Statements from eyewitnesses
- Photographs of injuries, property damage, and the scene of the accident
Your lawyer may need many other types of evidence as well. For example, if you were involved in a truck accident, they might seek data from the truck’s event data recorder.
The Settlement Demand Package
If an insurance company is liable for your claim, your first formal contact with them might be the demand package that you send them. The demand package includes (i) a letter explaining your claim and (ii) supporting evidence. The insurance company will send you a reservation of rights letter that explains how the company reserves the right to deny your claim if it lacks merit.
Personal Injury Settlement Negotiations
The insurance company will probably respond to your demand letter with a settlement offer in a couple of weeks. If they don’t respond, they might be stonewalling you. If they do respond, they will likely send a woefully inadequate settlement offer.
Turn it down and continue negotiating, back and forth, until they offer an adequate settlement.
If you reach an impasse, it might be time to file a lawsuit, even if for no other reason than to motivate the insurance company to offer an adequate settlement amount.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Las Vegas, NV
In many cases, you must file a lawsuit to stimulate the opposing party to issue a fair offer.
The three main reasons why parties who wish to settle will file a personal injury lawsuit are:
- To beat the statute of limitations deadline
- To put pressure on a stubborn defendant
- To qualify for the pretrial discovery process
Sometimes, the filing of a lawsuit results in an immediate settlement offer—but don’t count on it.
The Pretrial Discovery Process
Pretrial discovery is a set of tools that allow you to collect evidence in the hands of the defendant.
The four main discovery tools are:
- Depositions: Cross-examination of witnesses, out of court and under oath.
- Interrogatories: Written questions that the opposing party must answer in writing and under oath.
- Requests for production: A demand for access to documents or physical evidence.
- Requests for admissions: A request that the other party admit or deny the truth of a particular statement. This simplifies a trial by narrowing the issues in dispute.
This process is court-enforced, meaning that the court can compel either side to comply with the other side’s discovery requests.
Return To the Negotiating Table (or Mediation)
The discovery process will probably yield a great deal of new evidence. This new evidence might change the character of the negotiations by tilting the playing field towards one side or the other. Settlement negotiations often end soon after the discovery process does.
Even if they don’t, the court may pressure the parties to enter mediation, during which a third-party mediator suggests ways to resolve your dispute.
Drafting a Settlement Agreement
You reach a settlement when you draft a settlement agreement, both parties sign it, and you withdraw your lawsuit from the court. Your lawyer should either draft the settlement agreement or carefully review it. Never use an Internet template agreement.
What If the Personal Injury Case Goes To Trial?
Typically, a trial is the last resort when settlement negotiations fail.
At trial, the lawyers:
- Select the members of the jury from among the candidates
- Make opening statements
- Present evidence during the examination and cross-examination of witnesses
- Make closing statements, referring to the evidence presented during the proceedings
The jury (or in some cases, the judge) will then decide the case and announce the decision.
Disbursement of Funds
The opposing party might take up to two weeks to disburse your compensation. The money will first go to your lawyer, who will then deduct legal fees and other deductible amounts. Ultimately, your lawyer will disburse the rest of the money to you.
Contact a Las Vegas Personal Injury Lawyer If You Have Questions Regarding the Timeline of Your Case
Because of the prevalence of the contingency fee system among personal injury lawyers, accident victims seldom need to worry whether they can afford to hire a lawyer. What really matters is the strength of your claim. Since you might not know the strength or value of your claim until you talk to a lawyer, you should consider scheduling a free initial consultation at Battle Born Injury Lawyers. Call us today at (702) 570-9000.