There are four main phases of a personal injury case. Five phases if litigation is necessary and six phases if we go to trial. We’ll discuss them in more detail below:
1. Start-Up Phase
This is when your attorneys send out the necessary representation letters to all necessary parties: including the at-fault driver’s car insurance, your car insurance, your health insurance, and other important players.
At this stage, the lawyers are making sure they uncover all potential sources of recovery (insurance) and do everything that is required under the policies to ensure your rights are protected. If certain steps are not taken with your own policies, you may lose coverage.
At this stage your lawyers will also be investigating the case to look for other potentially responsible parties as well as looking for helpful pieces of evidence that may not last for very long (videos, witness, statements, etc.) In a perfect world, its best to acquire legal representation early on so all of these steps can be taken care of quickly. This sets up the case the right way from the start.
2. Treatment Phase
During this stage, your only focus is to follow your doctor’s recommendations and work on getting and feeling better.
It’s important to take the appropriate length of time for your body to heal. This looks different for everyone, as the same injury can heal at different speeds for different people.
Because settlement is a one-time deal, it’s crucial to settle (or attempt to settle) at the right time. If you settle too early, you risk needing future medical treatment and not getting the proper funds from a settlement to pay for it.
As attorneys, we are here to monitor your treatment, not direct it. Only you know how your body feels in comparison to before the incident. What you need to do to feel better is a decision made between you and your doctors. If needed, we can help you connect with the right doctors.
3. Demand Phase
This is where your story is told to the insurance company. First, we gather medical records and bills from all the
doctors you visited for incident-related care. We then create and send a “demand packet” to the insurance company.
In this demand, we tell the insurance company how the incident occurred, why their insured is at fault, the types of injuries you sustained, the type(s) of medical treatment you received, the medical bills you incurred, and how your injuries affected your life. We also include the miles you had to drive to go back and forth from doctors’ appointments and any wage loss you incurred because of your injuries.
Examples of Wage Loss
Maybe you used to work full time but now you can only work part time because of your injuries; or over the span of several months you missed a week of work so you could go to physical therapy; or maybe you missed two months of work because you were recovering from a surgery you needed to get. All of these would be considered wage loss.
4. Negotiations/Settlement Phase
Once the insurance company reviews the demand packet, we start negotiations in an attempt to settle your case.
We ask the insurance company to start with their initial offer. This offer is typically quite low, as the insurance company is trying to settle your claim for the lowest dollar amount possible. Our mission is to get you top dollar for your claim and we will accept nothing less.
After going back and forth with the insurance on numbers, we will finally get them to their “top” amount. This is the number they have valued the case at and are willing to pay to avoid court.
This is when you and your attorney have an honest conversation about your case. You will discuss both the positive and negative facts about your case and ultimately, whether the insurance company’s top amount is an appropriate number to settle your case.
As always, we are there to offer our advice, but the final decision is yours. The decision not only takes into account the actual dollar amount, but also weighs the risks and benefits of not accepting the settlement amount. Ultimately, you and your attorney decide whether to accept the settlement or initiate litigation and file a complaint within the court system.
5. Litigation Phase
Litigation does not guarantee a trial. Litigation begins by filing a complaint within the court system. From there, settlement may still occur at any point before trial.
Usually, the time between filing a complaint and starting trial is one year, so there is plenty of time to settle if you so choose. Think of it as a marathon rather than a sprint.
Once a complaint is filed, we wait for the insurance to file an “answer.” The answer is their response to the claims we allege in our complaint. Then the “discovery” phase starts, which is when both sides gather evidence on their own and asking the other side for any evidence in their possession.
Depositions come next, where the insurance company and your attorneys get to formally ask people (including you,
your doctors, any witnesses, maybe even your friends) questions under oath.
After depositions, the parties will likely schedule a mediation. Mediation is when both sides agree to speak with an unbiased mediator (usually a retired judge) about settling the case before a trial becomes necessary. The case may or may not get settled here. If not, trial is the next step.
6. Trial Phase
When the parties cannot agree on a settlement amount, trial becomes necessary. Trial is a formal process, where both sides argue their case, a judge makes decisions about the law, and the jury makes the ultimate decision about how much money, if any, you the Plaintiff are entitled to receive as a result of the incident. A trial usually lasts somewhere between two to five days.
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