This post gives you a roadmap of the “usual” personal injury case. I wrote it to give my clients, and prospective clients, a good general outline of what to expect if you have a personal injury case because of a car accident or other negligent act.
Of course, not all personal injury cases follow the usual format. Your case may take some detours from this general outline.
Here is the super short version if you don’t want to read this whole post: Generally, there is a lot to do at the beginning of a new personal injury case, and a lot to do at the end. And there is a long (sometimes) stretch in the middle where not much happens. This is because you are treating and recovering from your personal injuries. We cannot possibly resolve your personal injury case until we know what your damages are. And we cannot possibly know what your damages are until you have recovered from your injuries. Once we know your damages, we make a demand on the adverse driver’s insurance company. Then we will either settle the case, or file suit to resolve it in court.
Initial Actions – Meeting with the Personal Injury Attorney
The first thing that occurs is meeting with a personal injury attorney to discuss the case and sign a retainer agreement. We have another post explaining this process, and listing all of the things you should take to your first personal injury appointment.
We will meet and talk about your case, and I will take a lot of notes. I will want copies of all your documents, and I will explain how I see the case proceeding. You will have a chance to get all of your questions answered, and when you leave you will have my contact information to ask me any follow up questions you may have. Hopefully, you will also get to meet my paralegals, who will assist me in handling your personal injury case.
Initial Actions – After the Meeting
After this first meeting, there is a lot for my office to do. We will get in touch with the adverse driver’s insurance company. They will have to deal with us from that point on. We do NOT want you communicating with the adverse insurance company after you have retained an personal injury attorney. We will have to order your medical records, medical bills, and the police report.
Investigations: We also may need to hire a private investigator to do an investigation of the facts of your accident. We do this if it appears liability may be questioned. We may need photos of the scene, or any skid marks on the road. We may need to hire an accident reconstructionist. We may need to get recorded statements from witnesses. Such statements can be invaluable if we need them for a trial 2-3 years later. People forget things, but showing them a statement they made close to the actual event can jog their memory.
PIP: We will also get in touch with your insurance company so we can process your PIP, which stands for personal injury protection insurance. PIP is insurance you have on your own auto insurance policy to cover some of the medical bills for any personal injury you may have. For more on how PIP works, see our Free Legal Consumer Guide on Car Accident Cases. We will be happy to handle the PIP for you. We do not charge for this service. We treat it as part of your case and do it as a courtesy.
Property Damage: However, I DO want you to try and handle your own property damage claim. This involves getting your car fixed, or getting paid for the value of your car if it is a total loss. I am ALWAYS willing to help out or step in if you run into trouble with this process, but most of the time you do not want my office playing middle man. That just slows the process down, and prevents you from getting your car fixed as fast as you can. Check out our blog post specifically on this subject here.
After the first few days or weeks, your personal injury case (and your life) will settle down into a more regular routine. By now your car will be fixed, your PIP will be processed, and the investigations are done. Then we have to wait while you complete your medical treatment and recovery.
After you suffer an injury, it is going to take some time for you to heal. We counsel patience during this time. Everyone wants to get back to 100% immediately, but your body just doesn’t work that way. We will stay in regular contact during this time, and keep an eye on your medical treatment. But your doctor will be the one who dictates how things go during this stage of your personal injury case.
Doctor’s Orders: You should follow your doctor’s orders to the letter. This is not only good for your health. It is good for your personal injury case too. We want to prove to the insurance company (or a jury at trial) that you did absolutely everything you were supposed to do while recovering from your personal injury.
How Long? Most doctors will keep you under their care for at least 6 months from the date of any injury. And if you have a major injury, or a surgery, you can count on remaining under doctor’s care until 1 year from the date of your injury or surgery. At some point, you will reach “maximum medical improvement,” which means you are as good as you going to get. Hopefully, that is a 100% recovery. If not, your doctor will tell us what your permanent restrictions are for the future.
Keep Us Informed: Although we will check in with you regularly, I ask my clients to let me know when something major happens in your medical care – like a big change in your treatment plan, or a surgery being scheduled. The doctor’s offices do NOT communicate with us unless we call them. Don’t assume we know when new things happen with your medical care. Because of federal privacy laws, we almost always have to order your actual medical records to find out anything from your doctor.
Return to Work: This is an issue I want to make special note of – you should return to work when your doctor says you can. The insurance company’s attorney will make a big deal of this if you do not. It will hurt your case. If you are released to work with restrictions, call me and we can discuss how to make sure your boss abides by your restrictions. If you think you cannot return to work, call me and we can discuss it. Ultimately, nobody can force you to go back. You will make the final decision. I will back you up in your decision, but I will also give you honest advice about it. Every case is different and I cannot tell you right now what I will do in your case if this does happen.
Reaching Maximum Medical Improvement
The value of your personal injury case is based on your damages. As I stated earlier, we cannot possibly know your damages until you have finished treating with the doctors. Once you do reach maximum medical improvement, we can move on towards resolving your case.
The first thing we must do when you reach this stage is order any outstanding medical records and medical bills. We will also document your lost wages. We may have to wait 30-60 days to receive your medical records or bills. Every facility is different, but this is a good average time to wait for medical records.
Demand or Lawsuit
When we have everything, my paralegals will put it together into a demand package. This is an organized packet containing everything related to your damages in the case – your medical records, your medical bills, your property damages, your lost wages, and any out of pocket expenses you may have. When this packet is complete, you and I will meet to discuss it. Once we have agreed on a strategy and a value, we will send out the demand package to the adverse insurance company.
After that, we are waiting on the insurance company. They will get back to me in a reasonable time, and we will engage in negotiations. If they are being reasonable and we can agree on a number, we will settle the case. If we cannot settle the case, we will move on to filing a lawsuit.
See our separate post here explaining the normal roadmap for a lawsuit. We hope you do not have to file suit in your case, but don’t be surprised. More and more, the personal injury system forces us to file a lawsuit simply to get a reasonable number out of the adverse driver’s insurance company. It sounds silly, but it is a real problem.
I cannot possibly know whether that will happen in your case. But I do know that we will be fully prepared to file a lawsuit if we need to, and we will be ready to go to court if the insurance company does not want to be reasonable. We will see your personal injury case through to a successful conclusion.
As always, contact me if you have any questions or concerns.