What Are the Stages of a Personal Injury Case?
If you think you have a personal injury claim, you may be wondering what goes on in a typical case, and how long the whole process can take. Although accident and personal injury lawsuits can take many forms, at their core the different stages usually remain consistent. This article will walk you through the different stages of a personal injury lawsuit, from finding a personal injury lawyer to mediation and everything in between. Remember, the legal process varies from state to state, so make sure to find a local personal injury lawyer who is well-versed in personal injury.
Finding a Personal Injury Attorney
For anything beyond a minor claim, the first thing you should do is find a qualified personal injury attorney. You should select a lawyer as soon as you possibly can post-injury, as he or she will be an integral part of your case, particularly if it involves larger claims or serious injuries. So, where do you draw the line between a small claim you can take of yourself and a larger claim that requires the assistance of a lawyer? Generally speaking, you might need a lawyer if your medical bills cost thousands of dollars, you’ve broken a bone or two, or you missed a significant amount of work due to your injuries. Once you secure a lawyer, they will start working on your case.
The Review Phase
Once you hire a personal injury attorney, the first thing he or she will do is interview you about how the accident happened, any background info, your medical condition, and any treatment you may have received. During this time, the lawyer wants to learn as much as he or she can about your injuries in order to evaluate whether or not you have grounds for a case.
Making a Demand
If you have a valid claim your lawyer will begin working your claim towards making a demand on the insurance carrier. In almost all cases, lawyers will wait until you’ve reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) before making a demand. MMI is when the victim has completed his or her medical treatment and has reached full recovery, or has recovered as much as he or she possibly can. Lawyers wait until MMI has been reached because, without MMI, the lawyer has no idea how much the injuries have and will impact someone’s life. Unfortunately, it could take months or years to reach MMI. Although personal injury lawyers will prefer to wait until MMI has been reached, some will make exceptions if the victim cannot financially afford to wait any longer.
After the defendant receives the demand, both parties will have the opportunity to negotiate. If a negotiation cannot be reached, your lawyer will proceed with filing a lawsuit.
Filing a Lawsuit & Discovery
Once the lawsuit is officially filed, the clock starts ticking on when the case might go to trial. Every state has different pretrial procedures, but most personal injury cases take one to two years to go to trial. After the lawsuit is filed, the discovery process will take place. In this stage, the lawyers question each other and any third-parties and witnesses about the other party’s claims and defenses. They try to learn as much as they possibly can about the opposite party in an effort to build up their defense. Depending on the court’s deadlines and the complexity of the case, this process can last six months to a year.
Note: keep in mind that a lawsuit needs to be filed within a strict statute of limitations. In Oregon, the statute of limitations is two years, but this number varies from state to state.
Mediation, Negotiation, and Trial
As the discovery process draws to a close, the lawyers will generally start talking about a settlement. Although most cases settle outside of court, sometimes they need an extra push. This push often comes in the form of mediation. During mediation, both lawyers and both clients go in front of a mediator to try and settle the case. If mediation doesn’t work, the case is scheduled for trial. Personal injury trials can last anywhere from a day to longer than a week. If you think you may have a personal injury claim, contact a personal injury attorney for more information.