Whether your personal injury case eventually settles (as most do) or goes to trial, your personal injury lawyer will be busy trying to get you the best possible result. After all, most personal injury attorneys get paid on a contingency fee basis, meaning the lawyer doesn’t recover fees for representing you unless you recover compensation from the at-fault party. Let’s look at a few key aspects of a lawyer’s role during a typical personal injury case.
Investigation and Initial Demand
The first thing your attorney will do is get as much information as possible about your case. That means all relevant details related to the nature and extent of your injuries and a determination of fault for the underlying accident, including:
- medical bills
- medical treatment history
- police reports
- surveillance footage
- witness statements
- photographs, and
- official government reports.
Next, the attorney will likely make a demand to the insurer of the liable party (in a car accident case, for example, that means the at-fault driver’s car insurance company).
If this initial demand results in a settlement offer, your attorney will review it with you and recommend how to respond. The initial settlement offer is rarely the final offer. One thing to keep in mind is that your attorney will wait until there’s a full understanding of the scope of your injuries and other losses (including all future medical care you’ll require and how your injuries will affect your ability to work) before accepting a settlement.
If, after settlement negotiations, your attorney is unable to get an amount you’re willing to accept, the next thing your attorney will do is begin the lawsuit. (Learn more about your options if you’re at a personal injury settlement impasse.)
The Personal Injury Litigation Process
A personal injury lawsuit starts with the filing of the complaint, a legal document listing your legal arguments, the facts in support of those legal arguments, and what you demand in relief.
After you file the complaint and serve it on the defendant (the person you’re suing), the defendant will file a response to your complaint (the “answer”).
Next, “discovery” begins. This is the stage of litigation where the two sides exchange information that might serve as evidence during trial. In most personal injury cases, discovery will consist of depositions, requests for documents, and interrogatories, and the process can take months to complete.
After discovery, the trial is set. Your attorney may file a variety of pre-trial motions (to try to keep the defendant from using a piece of evidence during trial, for example). It’s very rare for a personal injury lawsuit to reach the trial phase. Settlement is possible at any point during this process, including right up to (or even during) trial.
Your personal injury lawyer will take care of all aspects of the litigation phase and will keep you updated on your case’s progress.
Points to Keep in Mind After Hiring a Lawyer
Your attorney probably can’t respond immediately to your telephone calls or emails. Lawyers are ethically bound to respond to clients within a reasonable amount of time, but they have other cases to work on, depositions to prepare for, and court hearings to attend.
One thing your lawyer should never do is keep you in the dark about what’s going on in your case, especially if the other side makes a settlement offer. Unless you’ve given your permission, your lawyer cannot accept or reject a settlement offer without running it by you first.
Be careful discussing your case with anyone other than your lawyer or a representative from your lawyer’s office. If you get a call from an insurance adjuster or someone you’re not familiar with, don’t talk to them about your case. If they have legitimate questions or concerns about your case, you can refer them to your attorney. On a related note, unless your attorney advises you otherwise, do not sign any document relating to your case, and do not change doctors.
Keep your lawyer updated. For instance, if you finish your medical treatment, tell your attorney. If the defendant or someone working on behalf of the defendant tries to contact you, tell your attorney. If you receive additional medical bills or other documents that substantiate your damages claim, tell your attorney and send them copies of relevant documents.
If you’re having money struggles as a result of your personal injury, tell your attorney. They can suggest avenues of financial support and give you advice on how to deal with creditors.
After Obtaining a Legal Recovery
Whether you win at trial or obtain a settlement, your attorney will make arrangements to collect the money the defendant must pay. This might mean getting in touch with the defendant’s insurance company and having a check sent to your attorney’s office. Or it could include filing post-trial motions to collect the judgment. Learn more about collecting your injury settlement or judgment.
If your case settles, you will likely sign settlement and release forms. In essence, these forms say that in return for compensation, you agree to end your lawsuit against the defendant (or promise not to sue them in connection with the underlying accident).