Knowing the best way to pursue a personal injury claim will make an often traumatic situation a little easier.
Being injured in an accident is a terrible thing to experience. It can be even worse if someone else is responsible. And unfortunately, the difficulties don’t always end when the accident is over. Sometimes, they continue for a long time afterward, especially if your injuries are serious or ongoing. An accident is bad enough, but the aftermath can also be complicated, frightening and confusing.
If you’ve recently been injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault, you might be feeling frustrated, angry, or even a little overwhelmed. That’s why we’ve put together this guide: to steer you through the stressful process of filing a personal injury claim. We’ll start with an overview of a personal injury claim.
Overview of a Personal Injury Claim
In our legal system, the term ‘personal injury‘ refers to the physical, mental, and emotional damage that a victim suffers in an accident or another type of mishap. The most common cause of personal injuries are auto accidents, but they can also result from:
A personal injury case is a civil suit in which the victim claims that an individual, business, or government agency is legally responsible for the accident. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff alleges that negligence on the part of the defendant led to the accident.
If you can show that another party is legally responsible for your personal injuries, you may be entitled to financial compensation. This includes compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Here’s what you need to know when filing your claim.
First Things First: Seek Treatment
Of course, the most important thing is treating your injuries. If you’re hurt in an accident of any sort, seek proper medical care immediately. Not only is this absolutely necessary for your health and well-being, it’s also a precondition for everything that happens later in your injury claim.
Once you’ve received the necessary medical attention and start feeling a little better, it’s time to swing into action. It’s up to you whether or not you engage a personal injury lawyer right away. Just remember you can consult with an attorney risk-free at any time during this process.
Next, Record the Details
The first thing you will need for your personal injury claim is a detailed account of the incident. Write down everything you remember about the accident as soon as possible, while your memory of it is still fresh. This account will be very important later on, so go into as much detail as you can. Write down what happened before, during, and after the incident.
Then, keep detailed records of everything that happens after your injury. Keep track of everything that’s related to the accident — phone calls, missed work, doctor’s visits, property repairs, and physical or emotional discomfort.
Next, Follow These Steps
Continue keeping track of everything related to the accident, but in the meantime move on to the next phase of the personal injury claim process. Here are the next few things you should do.
- Gather any evidence involved in the accident. Take pictures of any injuries or property damage, as well as the scene of the accident.
- Record the names and contact information for anyone who may have witnessed the accident.
- If you personally talk with any witnesses, make sure to take ample notes or record the conversation.
Accidents are complicated, especially when you’ve been hurt. Sometimes, it can be very difficult to know which party is actually responsible for a given incident. There are several types of entities that could be at fault — individuals, businesses, government agencies, etc. This is where an attorney could prove invaluable. It’s important not to assume anything when you’re considering your options.
Be Aware of Time Limits for a Personal Injury Claim
Your attorney will notify any possible defendants of your intentions to file for damages against them. This should be done as soon as possible, as there are deadlines for most legal actions.
There are several things to bear in mind regarding the timing of your claim. The first is an important law called “the statute of limitations.” You’ve probably heard of this at one time or another, but what does it actually mean? And more importantly: how does it apply to your injury claim?
In general terms, a statute of limitations puts a limit on how long certain legal actions can be taken after an incident. For your personal injury claim, it means that you have a finite length of time to after your accident to file a suit. If you fail to file your claim before this period ends, you will permanently lose the right to sue the other party.
How long the statute of limitations last depends on a few different factors. The most important variable is the state where the accident happened. Each state prescribes a different length of time for personal injury cases, usually between one year and six years after the incident(1).
Another reason to get the ball rolling is the amount of time it can take for a personal injury case to get resolved. Your attorney will want to get your case done as quickly as possible, but even with top-notch legal help, personal injury cases can stretch out for months or even years. The quicker you get things started, the quicker you can receive your settlement and move on with your life.
Know About Filing Claims Against Government Agencies
Things are a little more complicated if you’re suing a government agency. Cases involving the federal government are especially tricky(2). Certain guards are in place to protect federal agencies, so it’s best to involve an attorney right away.
There are complexities at the state level as well(3). Typically, you’re required to file an administrative claim with the agency prior to filing your lawsuit. The time limits for administrative claims range from 30 days to 1 year, so you’ll need to act more quickly than with an individual.
Learn These Personal Injury Specifics
If you’ve been injured in an accident and think some other entity might be at fault, you’ll need to find out if the other party has an insurance policy that will pay for your injury claims. This is important because it will determine whether or not you’ll actually be able to collect for any damages.
Getting a judgment in your favor is only half the battle. Whether or not the other party can pay is just as important. As the old saying goes: you can’t get blood from a turnip. If the at-fault party in your accident doesn’t have insurance coverage or enough assets, you might have a hard time receiving your settlement.
But you should proceed with your claim either way. Do your due diligence and let the other side sort out the details. This is another place where you need an attorney. Once they examine your case, they’ll be able to advise you on what is and isn’t worth the trouble. But until you hear otherwise from legal counsel, go forward with your claim.
Decide Whether You Need a Personal Injury Attorney
Deciding whether or not to engage an attorney is a huge part of the claims process, one you should never take lightly. The short answer to this question is that you just don’t know. Except in the absolute simplest cases, you won’t know if you could benefit from an attorney’s help until you speak with one about your case.
Most personal injuries claims are too complicated to handle on your own. The right legal counsel can be a game changer when you’re injured. A good personal injury attorney will simplify the process, reduce your stress, and maximize the amount of any settlement you receive.
And you won’t lose anything by talking to an attorney anyway, not in personal injury cases. Remember that talking to an attorney doesn’t mean you’re hiring them. Most personal injury lawyers give free consultations in these cases. They’ll discuss the facts of your case and outline your options free of charge.
And if you do hire an attorney to handle your case, you won’t have to pay anything out of pocket. As you may know, most personal injury attorneys work on a “contingency” basis. This means that the client only pays a fee if their attorney wins them a settlement. This fee is agreed upon in advance and amounts to a certain percentage of the final settlement.
Learn These Facts About Engaging an Attorney
Again, personal injury attorneys will consult with you for free and they work on a contingency basis, so you have nothing to lose by talking with one. You can find a reputable attorney on your local bar association’s website. Just be certain that you seek the counsel of an attorney who specializes in personal injury cases. An attorney who specializes in the type injury you received can be even more valuable.
When talking to an attorney, feel free to ask them any questions you might have about their services. Find out about their history with cases that are similar to yours and how they think your suit will play out. You can also ask questions about how their office operates. For instance, you might ask how much your attorney will personally be involved in your case, as some of the work will probably be delegated to other legal professionals.
These questions will give you ample time to decide if you wish to work with the attorney on your case. The client-attorney relationship is very important. You should be comfortable talking with them about important matters, especially after what you’ve already experienced.