Only about 3 to 5 percent of personal injury claims ever go to trial, according to Bureau of Justice statistics. The vast majority are settled out of court between the parties involved, their attorneys, and the insurance companies. That’s a good thing, since going to court is typically extremely time consuming.
Let’s walk through what you can expect when you make a claim and how settlements are determined.
Filing a personal injury claim
If the accident was totally your fault, you should file a claim with your insurance company under your collision coverage. If the other driver was completely or partially liable for the collision, contact your insurance company and the other driver’s insurance company.
When you call an insurance company to file a claim, you will need to give them:
• Your name and policy number.
• Your policy’s start and end date.
• The date and time of the accident.
• The names, addresses, and phone numbers of all drivers, passengers, and witnesses.
• The driver’s license number and license plate numbers for all the drivers.
The auto insurance company will then assign a professional to work on your claim. The claims professional will inspect your car, investigate injury and damage claims, and evaluate your case.
Your insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company may ask you to make a sworn statement. Do not make a statement to your insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company before consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney.
Consulting with an attorney
An experienced personal injury attorney will ask you about the details of the accident, your injuries and medical bills, the vehicular damage, your lost wages if you had to temporarily stop working, and more. He or she will inform you of your legal options.
The Lamber-Goodnow Injury Law team provides free, no obligation consultations. We don’t get paid until you get paid.
For more information on what to do following an accident, read our detailed article here. Following these procedures will help your attorney build the strongest case possible.
The investigation of the case
If you decide to retain counsel, your personal injury attorney will conduct a thorough investigation of your claim. He or she will examine police reports, the accident scene, photographs, witness testimony, medical records, your employment history and earning power, and more.
Depending on the case, your lawyer may also reconstruct the details of the accident, consult with medical and mechanical experts, secure data from the vehicle’s black box to determine the condition of the vehicle and the road, and subpoena video surveillance footage. Your attorney may also interview eye-witnesses and obtain statements.
Submitting a demand package
Your attorney will then submit a demand for settlement. This includes a demand letter detailing your case, the liability information, damages (injuries, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and various other financial and emotional costs).
It is crucial to present a strong and impressive case in the demand letter. Therefore, the Lamber-Goodnow Injury Law Team often delivers not so much a demand letter as a “demand iPad,” filled with photo and video evidence and all the documents. The team also loans some clients iPads and/or Google Glass, plus utilizes apps and video conferencing, to ensure easy communication and document sharing.
Typically, the other driver’s attorneys, the insurance company or whoever else represents the opposing party will then review the demand package. They will either reject the demand, accept it, or make a counteroffer.
The parties and their lawyers typically engage in a negotiation process before coming to a settlement. Your attorney, who is usually paid only a percentage of the settlement, will attempt to get you the most compensation possible.
Again, in almost every instance, the claim will be settled at this point and will not proceed to court. However, if the case cannot be settled at this phase, your lawyer may work with you to file a lawsuit seeking compensation. In that instance, the case may go to trial.
The steps toward a trial
Another discovery phase will begin at this point. The opposing parties will gather further evidence from each other. They will evaluate all aspects of the other side’s evidence and arguments.
Then, a mediator – typically a current or former judge – may oversee mediation between the parties in a further attempt to resolve the case and avoid trial. Mediation involves informal proceedings in which both parties negotiate in an attempt to reach a settlement. The difference is that the mediation process is overseen by an impartial expert. Having a lawyer who is experienced in this delicate psychological arena is crucial.
If mediation does not resolve the matter, the case will go to trial. A jury or other decision makers will evaluate the facts, determine fault and possibly award damages. The losing party may appeal the decision, which sets in motion the appellate process.