A personal injury lawyer helps you seek compensation for a physical injury due to someone else’s misconduct (typically negligence). You might contact a personal injury lawyer after a car accident, a slip and fall accident, a dog bite, or medical malpractice, for example.
Don’t wait until you file a lawsuit to contact a personal injury lawyer. A personal injury lawyer can help you from the day of your accident until trial or settlement.
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Discuss the Accident With You
Your first contact with a personal injury lawyer will likely take place at a free initial consultation. This consultation might occur in the lawyer’s office or if your injuries are serious, at the hospital.
The lawyer will ask you questions about your accident designed to determine how much your claim is worth. The lawyer may also advise you of your rights and your legal options.
Investigate Your Claim and Gather Evidence
Once you hire a particular lawyer, the first stage of enforcing your claim will be an investigation. Your lawyer will:
- Examine the scene of the accident;
- Obtain copies of your medical records;
- Obtain a copy of the police report;
- Interview witnesses; and
- Attempt to reconstruct the accident from available data.
Your lawyer will take many other actions, depending on the circumstances of your case. They might seek data about the accident from a commercial truck’s event data recorder, for example, or obtain CCTV footage of the accident from a traffic camera.
Draft and Send a Demand Letter
A demand letter simply informs the opposing party (usually an insurance company) of the basic facts of your claim and demands compensation. If the opposing party is an insurance company, they will reply with a “reservation of rights letter” that states their right to deny your claim if it lacks merit. This exchange of letters kicks off the negotiation process.
Send Letters of Representation to All Parties Involved in the Case
A representation letter notifies all parties involved in the case to direct any further communications to your lawyer, not you. Your lawyer needs your permission to send this letter. Sending a representation letter lets you focus on regaining your health instead of dealing with distracting legal matters. Regardless of whether your lawyer sends out representation letters, all significant decisions in the case are yours to make, not your lawyer’s.
Negotiate With the Opposing Party
The opposing party will probably be an insurance company, not the at-fault party. Your lawyer and the opposing party will exchange offers and counter-offers as well as arguments and counter-arguments, seeking a private settlement to resolve your case. This process may or may not be sufficient to reach an acceptable agreement.
File a Lawsuit (If Necessary)
Filing a lawsuit means filing a formal complaint with the court, paying the filing fees, and officially notifying the defendant of the lawsuit (“service of process”). Filing a lawsuit doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go to trial. About 95% of all pending lawsuits end in a settlement, not a trial. Following are three reasons why you might want to file a lawsuit even if you still want to settle your claim out of court:
- To beat the statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit (usually two years as of March 24, 2023, when the deadline was changed from four years to two years);
- For psychological effect—to prove to the opposing party that you are serious; and
- To gain access to pretrial discovery, a court-supervised evidence collection process.
You can settle your claim even while a lawsuit is pending. You can even settle it while the jury is deliberating your claim.
Find Expert Witnesses (If Necessary)
Expert witnesses are necessary in certain complex cases. You might need an expert witness to:
- Prove a doctor’s negligence in a medical malpractice claim;
- Prove that a product that injured you was defective and unreasonably dangerous;
- Reconstruct an accident and prove that the defendant was at fault; or
- Calculate your future lost earnings and medical expenses (if you suffer long-term disability from the accident).
An expert witness might testify, produce a research report on your case, or verbally advise your lawyer.
Manage the Pretrial Discovery Process
The pretrial discovery process, available only after you file a lawsuit, allows you to gather evidence in the defendant’s possession. Your lawyer may take the following actions, among others::
- Question the opposing party’s witnesses;
- Send written interrogatories (questions) to the opposing party;
- Demand access to physical evidence, such as CCTV footage or copies of essential documents; and
- Ask the opposing party to admit specific basic facts that the lawyer doesn’t want to bother proving at trial.
The opposing party can do the same-–cross-examine your witnesses, send interrogatories, and the like. They might demand that you submit to an independent medical examination of your injuries. If either side refuses to cooperate, the aggrieved party can motion the court to order the party to either cooperate or face sanctions.
Represent You in Mediation (If Necessary)
In mediation, a neutral third party helps both sides reach an agreement. The mediator can only suggest a solution–they cannot impose a settlement on either party. You can engage a mediator either before or after filing a lawsuit. Mediation is particularly popular with judges looking for ways to ease their busy dockets.
Draft or Review a Settlement Agreement
Settlement agreements are binding legal contracts, and you can take the opposing party to court for failure to pay the settlement amount. Your lawyer should either draft the agreement or carefully review a settlement agreement that the opposing party drafted.
Represent You in Court (If Necessary)
Your lawyer should have successful experience representing clients at trial. The opposing party will not respect your lawyer without a successful trial record. Under these circumstances, extracting a reasonable settlement offer could be almost impossible. The opposing party is unlikely to agree to pay you any money unless they know you can probably force it out of them by winning at trial.
Don’t even think about trying to represent yourself in court unless your claim is small enough to qualify for small claims court. Even then, a lawyer could prove extremely useful. If you go to trial with your claim and lose, your lawyer can also help you file an appeal.
Start Looking for a Miami Personal Injury Lawyer Today
If you have suffered a severe injury, you might not even know whether someone else is responsible. Even if you do know, you might not have any idea how to prove it. That is where Shaked Law Personal Injury Lawyers can help. If you have suffered an injury in the Miami, Florida metro area, contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation, call us at (305) 937-0191.