Whether your injuries are the result of a car crash, a slip-and-fall accident, or any other situation caused by the negligence or carelessness of another party, you could be entitled to compensation. Each claim and the circumstances surrounding it are different, but the following steps are common to most personal injury claims.
Choose an attorney
After you receive medical treatment for the injuries you suffered in an accident, you must retain the services of a personal injury attorney. The claims adjuster for the company insuring the party at fault in causing the accident would like nothing better than to settle the claim directly with you before you consult with an attorney.
A claims adjuster looks out for the insurance company by settling claims for as little as possible. Quick settlements can be enticing when you are unable to work and need money, but you might be settling for a fraction of what your claim is actually worth.
Experienced personal injury lawyers use their knowledge of jury verdicts and settlements from other cases to evaluate your injuries and the circumstances in which they occurred to determine the amount of compensation you should receive. When choosing an attorney, ask about the number of personal injury trials they have handled to verdict. You want your lawyer to be capable of resolving your claim through settlement while having the skills and confidence to go to trial if that is what it takes to get you the money you deserve.
Investigation and demand letter
Your attorney will review accident reports and witness statements and conduct an investigation to identify evidence to prove how the accident occurred and the fault of the party or parties against whom your claim for damages can be asserted. This will be followed by a demand letter to the other party or the party’s insurance company.
The demand letter usually generates discussions between your attorney and the insurance company claims adjuster about settlement of the claim. Unless a settlement offer is made that gives you the compensation you deserve, your personal injury attorney will likely start a lawsuit against the negligent party.
Starting a personal injury lawsuit
Negotiations between your attorney and the insurance company for the party that caused you to be injured do not stop merely because a lawsuit is begun on your behalf. Your personal injury lawyer may believe a lawsuit could result in more fruitful negotiations, or there could be a statute of limitations issue.
The statute of limitations is the time within which an injured party must begin a lawsuit. As a general rule, you have two years from the date of an accident to file a lawsuit in Oregon. Waiting too long to sue the other party could result in your claim being rejected.
Once the decision to file a lawsuit has been made, the following steps usually apply:
- Preparation and service of the pleadings: Your attorney prepares a summons and complaint that must be filed with the court, with copies served on the defendant, which is the party from whom you seek damages. The complaint contains information about the parties and allegations about how the accident occurred. The defendant must serve an answer to the complaint denying or admitting the allegations and asserting any defenses to your claim.
- Discovery process: Either party in a personal injury lawsuit may assert a discovery demand upon the other party. Discovery is the process of obtaining information and evidence from the opposing party through requests for production of evidence, including depositions and physical examinations by a doctor chosen by the defense.
- Motions: The attorneys for the parties in a personal injury lawsuit may use the evidence and information obtained through discovery to make motions asking the court for certain relief. A party could ask the court to force the opposing party to respond to discovery demands or ask the court to grant summary judgment based upon what was disclosed during discovery.
- Pre-trial conferences: Once the parties have completed the discovery and motion stages of the case, a conference with the judge and the attorneys for the parties is scheduled in order to settle the claim or schedule it for trial.
- Trial: Either a judge or a panel of jurors hears the testimony of witnesses and reviews evidence presented by each party before deciding whether the defendant should be held liable for causing the injury and the amount of compensation that should be awarded.
Mediation and arbitration offer voluntary non-judicial alternatives to a trial. If all parties to a personal injury lawsuit agree, the claim can be submitted to an impartial mediator or arbitrator. Unlike a mediator, whose role is to bring the parties together to settle their claim, an arbitrator considers the evidence that each side presents and renders a decision that is binding on the parties.
Getting help with your personal injury claim
The process for asserting a claim for personal injuries may differ from one state to another because it is governed by state law. One step in the process common to all states and all types of personal injury claims is to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer as soon after the injury as possible. The legal advice, guidance, and knowledge of the personal injury laws can be invaluable in ensuring that you receive the compensation you deserve.