The Personal Injury Legal Process

timeline of personal injury legal claims process

If you’ve been involved in a car accident and suffered personal injury as a result, you are probably wondering how you’ll get back on your feet. Paying medical bills out-of-pocket, combined with lost wages from missed work, make for a very stressful time. On top of all of that, you might be dealing with pain and suffering from the accident.

If you have suffered personal injury because of someone else’s negligence, you have the right to be compensated. This known as personal injury.

The information below should act as a guide to the car accident injury settlement process. Learn how this works, and contact Davis Law Group, P.S., if you have any questions.

 

Filing An Injury Claim With The Insurance Company

Immediately after an accident, you should contact law enforcement to ensure that the accident is reported and seek medical treatment if necessary. If possible, collect contact information from witnesses and document the scene (take pictures of vehicles, etc.). This will all be helpful down the line.

The personal injury claim process begins when you report your injury and initiate a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This may be your own insurance company if the at-fault driver did not have insurance. Most companies allow this to be done over the phone or online. 

Unfortunately, trying to negotiate a reasonable settlement with the insurance company may be a waste of time. More and more insurance companies are taking a very aggressive stance in settling accident claims. Certain carriers have a reputation for making low settlement offers, even if the injuries are severe. 

Once you’ve filed a claim, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will send you a “reservation of rights” letter. This notifies you that they are investigating your claim. You are not admitting any liability, but if you have any questions, you should contact an experienced and qualified personal injury attorney.

Statute Of Limitations

You only have a certain amount of time to settle your case or file a lawsuit and then serve the defendant. In Washington state, this time is usually three years from the date of the accident. This deadline is the “statute of limitations.” It is a dangerous practice work on an injury settlement with the statute of limitations approaching. If file suit right before the deadline and you cannot find the defendant, or if you serve the wrong defendant, your case could be dismissed. For this reason, you should not wait to hire an attorney right before the statute of limitations is about to expire. 

Attorneys may refuse to accept a case where there may be insufficient time to investigate, file suit and locate and serve the defendant.

The Settlement Process Without An Attorney

Going any further in this injury claim process without an attorney may be risky. You’ll have to draft and send a demand letter to the insurance company outlining your injuries and detailing the compensation you are seeking. You’ll then negotiate with the claims adjuster on a reasonable settlement. If no settlement can be reached, you may need to file a lawsuit.

It may be helpful to file a lawsuit immediately and then continue negotiating the claim if possible. After filing a lawsuit, the court sets certain deadlines, including a trial date. Setting a trial date may help motivate the insurance company to make reasonable and diligent attempts to settle the case. 

To start a lawsuit, file a lawsuit in court and pay a filing fee. Those papers what's known as a “summons” and “complaint.” If you file a lawsuit, you are now the "plaintiff." The person or corporation that you sued is the “defendant.” The plaintiff (you) must personally serve a copy of the summons and complaint on the defendant.

The Settlement Process With An Attorney

Once you hire a personal injury attorney, the process becomes simple. Your attorney manages the claims process while you focus on healing from your injuries. Your attorney and their legal team will periodically check in with you regarding treatment status and case updates. Your claim could be resolved quickly, or it could become a long, drawn-out process. Remember: no two cases are the same.

While you fight to get back to 100 percent health, your attorney is busy behind the scenes doing the following:

  • Investigating issues regarding insurance coverage, benefit exclusions and coverage defenses.
    • This may also include your first-party insurance benefits (Personal Injury Protection, disability, health insurance, etc.).
  • Obtaining accident reports, photographs, witness statements and hiring accident investigators.
  • Getting independent medical opinions, as well as other expert opinions if necessary. Those may include: 
    • Life care planning
    • Accident reconstruction experts
    • Economists
    • Psychologists
    • Engineers
  • Monitoring changes in the law which may impact your case.

While this is being done, your attorney and legal team is checking in with you and your doctors regarding treatment status, while also consulting you on a personalized legal strategy for your case. Once you have completed medical treatment or your condition becomes fixed and stable, your attorney and legal team will obtain medical records and evaluate lost wage information. 

Settlement Discussions

With all that information in hand, your attorney will create a detailed settlement demand package, approved by you. This is presented to the insurance company. Your attorney then negotiates with the claims adjuster and/or the attorneys for the defense.

If you accept the final offer, the following occurs:

  • Settlement documents/agreement from the third-party insurer are sent to you for signature.
  • Check from insurer remains in trust account for 10 days, as recommended by the Washington State Bar Association.
  • Your attorney's legal team contacts all providers and health insurers to verify outstanding bill amounts and/or lien amounts to be reimbursed.
  • Your attorney negotiates and/or pays subrogation, healthcare, and other first-party liens (PIP, L&I, etc.).
  • Final account statement - including reimbursements, costs and fees - is sent to you.
  • You receive the final settlement check.

If you reject the final offer, a lawsuit is filed.

The Litigation Process

After a lawsuit is filed, both sides take part in a process of asking for and exchanging information called "discovery." Each side can see what evidence and witnesses may called at trial. Sometimes, a case settles before finishing discovery, while other times it must complete all aspects before receiving an offer. The amount of discovery your case experiences depends on the evidence and settlement. Discovery often takes several forms:

Written Discovery

The parties are permitted to discover relevant facts through three main types of written discovery:

  • Interrogatories: Written questions that are answered under oath.
  • Requests for production of documents: Formal requests requiring one side to produce a document for inspection, copying, and filing by the other party.
  • Requests for admission: Seek the party with the evidence admit the state of fact or authenticate the truthfulness of that evidence.

Oral Discovery

The discovery process may also include depositions. Attorneys ask witnesses questions under oath while a court reporter transcribes the session. This includes any witness that may offer testimony at trial, including you, your doctors, and your friends and family. 

If you are "deposed," it is very important that you prepare with your attorney. Your conduct at the deposition may influence the value assigned to the case and whether the defense settles before trial.

Physical and Mental Examinations

If a lawsuit involves a claim for personal injuries, the discovery phase may include a medical and/or physical examination. The defense must meet specific criteria before you undergo an involuntary medical examination. At Davis Law Group, we have a specific stipulation that must be signed by the defense. This imposes several conditions and restrictions on how the examination may proceed.

Depending on where you file your lawsuit and the complexity of the case, the discovery phase may take many months or sometimes years. If you fail to settle the case after discovery has ended, the case proceeds further into litigation.

Mediation

Sometimes the parties engage in alternative ways to resolve the case, such as mediation. In mediation, the parties agree to hire a retired judge or an experienced attorney who assists the parties in reaching a settlement. 

Mediation is voluntary and non-binding (unless you reach a settlement). A mediation session is also confidential, so anything said during the session is off limits at trial. Many times, mediation successfully resolves a case. Mediation sessions can take anywhere from an hour to several days, depending on the size and/or complexity of the case.

Arbitration

This is another form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) which seeks to resolve a dispute outside of court. A neutral arbitrator reviews the evidence in the case and imposes a decision that is legally binding for both sides of the dispute. The arbitration decision may be appealed.

Trial

On average, 98 percent of cases settle without going to court. At the trial, your attorney will present evidence gathered during discovery. The defense will do the same. The trial includes jury selection (voir dire), opening statements, direct examination of witnesses, cross examination of witnesses, closing arguments, jury instructions, jury deliberation and a verdict.

The following occurs after the trial is completed:

  • Post-trial motions: After a trial court has entered a judgment, either party can file a post-trial motion. The most common types are motions for a new trial, motion for additur, motion for remitter, or a motion to amend or nullify the judgment.
  • Judgment entered: Entry occurs after the rendition of judgment and the act that consists of recording the conclusion reached by the court. At this point, either party may appeal the judgment.

Financial Recovery & Subrogation

Once any personal injury case has been successfully resolved - meaning that the attorney has successfully negotiated a fair level of financial compensation on behalf of the client - the insurance company or companies responsible for compensating the victim will issue a check to the attorney on the client's behalf. 

Different law firms may deal with the disbursement process in different ways. However, at Davis Law Group we go the extra mile to ensure that all of our clients' medical provider and insurer balances are resolved before paying out the recovery. This ensures that the client will not have to deal with bills that are either unresolved or were sent to collections after the fact.

Below is a brief outline of what this process might typically look like: 

  • The check from insurer remains in trust account for 10 days, as recommended by the Washington State Bar Association.
  • Your attorney's legal team contacts all providers and health insurers to verify outstanding bill amounts and/or lien amounts to be reimbursed.
  • Your attorney negotiates and/or pays subrogation, healthcare, and other first-party liens (PIP, L&I, etc.).
  • Final account statement - including reimbursements, costs and fees - is sent to the client for approval and signature.
  • Client receives the final settlement check.

Free Legal Consultations

DISCLAIMER: This article is intended to educate the general public about personal injury, car accident cases and the insurance claims process. It is not intended to be legal advice. Each case is different. To discuss your individual case, contact Davis Law Group at (206) 727-4000, use the chat feature below or fill out the form on this page.