A personal injury lawyer represents people who have suffered harm to their body or mind as a result the wrongful act or omission of another person, company, or government agency.
Consultation and Investigation
Because they typically finance the claim process and are not paid a fee until their client’s recovery, personal injury lawyers do not take on cases where they do not think there is a realistic chance of obtaining a recovery that will justify the expense and cost. There will be an initial consultation, in which the lawyer will interview you concerning your claim. This gives the lawyer an opportunity to decide whether they want to take on the claim and you an opportunity to decide whether you want to hire the lawyer to do so. If you retain the lawyer, throughout the claims process the personal injury lawyer represents you in dealings with insurance companies, employers, medical providers, witnesses, and government agencies.
After being retained, a personal injury lawyer will conduct an initial investigation to establish how the accident happened and who is at fault for it. This investigation may include obtaining any police or incident reports, obtaining or taking photographs, and tracking down and interviewing witnesses and obtaining statements from them. A personal injury lawyer will wait until you have recovered from your injuries or your condition has stabilized before opening settlement negotiations. The lawyer will then obtain medical records, employment records, and other documents necessary to establish your damages from the accident.
Negotiations are usually opened with a settlement demand package to the responsible insurance company. This package will include a letter summarizing the various aspects of your claim, including information concerning you, how the accident happened, your injuries from the accident, the treatment you received for those injuries, how your injuries impacted you, and the amounts you are claiming as damages. When the settlement demand package is assembled, the lawyer will then meet with you to discuss your economic damages, such as medical expenses and wage loss, and noneconomic damages, such as your physical and mental pain and suffering, the inconvenience you experienced from your injuries, and how your injuries interfered with the activities of your life. The settlement demand package will include documents and records, such as police reports and medical records, supporting the statements made in the demand letter. After submitting the settlement demand package to the insurance company, a personal injury lawyer will attempt to negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf.
If your lawyer is unable to negotiate a fair settlement acceptable to you, or if your claim is getting close to the end of the applicable statute of limitations, the personal injury attorney will file a lawsuit on your behalf. The lawsuit is started with a pleading called a complaint. In the complaint, your lawyer will make the statements, called allegations, that will have to be ultimately proved to prevail on your claim. The defendants in the lawsuit then have a certain amount of time to file a pleading called an answer, in which they respond to the allegations of the complaint. There is then a process called discovery, in which the parties make and respond to written questions about the case, request and produce documents containing information concerning the case, and take the depositions of the parties, witnesses, medical providers, and any experts.
Settlement negotiations don’t necessarily end because a lawsuit is filed. Mediation is a method of alternative dispute resolution that is sometimes used where the parties are unable to negotiate a settlement directly. In mediation, the mediator, usually a retired judge or an experienced personal injury attorney, attempts to help the parties reach a settlement. This is usually done by “shuttle diplomacy,” where the mediator goes back and forth between the parties, relaying demands and offers, along with input from the mediator regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the parties’ positions.
At some point during the discovery process, a trial date will be set. The date set for trial will depend on many different factors, including deadlines set by the Court’s local rules, the Court’s calendar and the calendars of the parties and the involved lawyers.