Being injured in a car accident through no fault of your own could lead to many stressful and confusing days, and you may be worried that your life will never return to normal. It's only natural to be concerned about the personal injury claims process; many people never imagine that they would need to consider filing suit for a car accident or for a retail store's negligence. The surprising fact is that most personal injury cases progress in a similar fashion, mostly following the same 6 steps shown below.
1. Meet Your Attorney: At your initial meeting, you will likely be interviewed about your case. If the attorney agrees to take your case, a contract will be signed for representation.
2. File Suit: Once your attorney has the incident details, a formal petition for damages is filed with the court. The petition will detail your damages and the amount of compensation you are asking for. This puts the other side, usually the at-fault party's insurance company, on notice that you are seeking damages. It's important to note that in some states, the attorney may precede the filing of the suit in court with a demand letter, which gives the major details of the case to the other party and presents them with an opportunity to settle out of court.
3. Discovery: Both a process and a formal interrogation, discovery encompasses the gathering and sharing of pertinent information about the case for both sides. During the deposition meeting, all involved parties are questioned and the responses become part of the trial.
4. Settlement Offers: Either before the trial begins or during the trial, the other party may offer a settlement, which, if you accept the offer, halts the trial process. You will then be paid an agreed-upon amount for your damages. There are commonly several offers and counteroffers in the negotiation process.
5. The Trial: If you don't agree on a settlement, then depending upon your state or district, a judge and sometimes a jury will listen as both sides present their evidence and render a verdict.
6. Judgment Collection or Appeals: You may win the amount you asked in damages, but oftentimes the amount is more or less than requested, depending on the success of your case. If you were not fortunate enough to win, you still may have a chance to prevail by pressing your case through the appeals process. Appeals are heard by a different level of court, and they review the case for mistakes and take a fresh look at the evidence.
The personal injury system differs slightly from state to state, but you can expect the same general progression for your case. Your auto accident attorney can give you more information for your particular state.