If you've been hurt in a car accident due to someone else's fault, you are likely wondering what role a personal injury attorney can play in handling your case. Once you retain an attorney to represent you in your bodily injury claim, several things will take place.
While you might be eager to settle you claim quickly, a good personal injury attorney will explain that it will take several months to settle your case, and even longer if it proceeds to litigation.
This is largely because recovering from serious bodily injuries often entails a rather long period of medical treatment. Your attorney will have to diligently review your medical records and document the courses of treatment prescribed to you when submitting a demand letter to the insurance carrier. Just based on that fact alone, it would be unwise to seek a settlement early on, when your diagnoses are not sufficiently defined and your treatment is incomplete. This means that if you experience new symptoms or incur additional expenses after reaching a settlement prematurely, you might lose the opportunity for full compensation.
Having this in mind will help you better understand the length of time involved in settling your case. Don't be concerned if you are not getting constant updates from your attorney during certain periods of time. This is not because he/she does not wish to communicate with you, but rather, because you are seeking treatment and the evidence gathering is ongoing. There are no updates to be provided.
Contacting Insurance Companies
As a preliminary matter, your attorney will contact your insurance company and the at-fault party's insurance company in order to communicate that you are represented by counsel. This puts insurance companies on notice that all future communications are to be directed to the attorney, under no circumstances to the client. As long as you are not represented by an attorney, insurance companies will call you directly to demand recorded statements and to request other information that can later be used against you in denying or lowering the value of your case.
Investigating scene of the accident/contacting witnesses
Next, your attorney will request the traffic collision report for your accident, if one exists. This may also take more time than expected, depending on the department or agency that presented to the scene of the accident. Although not admissible in court, police reports are frequently helpful in establishing initial liability determinations and eliminating disputes regarding who is at fault.
If the police report does not list any one party as a primary cause of collision, however, it will still be possible for your attorney to build a theory of liability based on other factors and to present additional evidence demonstrating that the other party was fully or partially at fault for the collision.
In the meantime, your attorney might also visit the scene of the accident, contact any potential witnesses, and investigate the policy limits of the other party's insurance policy. The specific facts of your case will guide the direction of the investigation.
Requesting Medical/Wage Records
As mentioned earlier, documenting your medical treatment is one of the most, if not the most, critical aspect in demonstrating the extent of loss caused by the accident. Because of this, your attorney will have to request complete medical and billing records from each and every medical facility that you visited following the collision. This might include hospitals, primary care physicians, specialists, physical therapists, and chiropractors.
If you are also claiming lost wages, your attorney will seek letters and paystubs/tax returns from you and your employer(s) to substantiate your claim and to calculate the exact amount you are entitled to for your lost wages.
Sending a Demand Package & Negotiating
Once all of the investigation and evidence gathering is completed, your attorney will proceed to compile a demand package, which will include a letter containing facts, legal arguments, and a demand for settlement in a particular amount. Attached will be a number of relevant exhibits supporting the need for the requested amount, such as medical bills and records, pictures, letters, etc. This package will be sent to the claim adjuster assigned to your case by the insurance company.
Oftentimes, the adjuster will respond with a counteroffer, commencing negotiations between your attorney and the adjuster. If a satisfactory settlement is not reached, as determined by you and your attorney, then your attorney might decide to file a lawsuit in court. Otherwise, your attorney will move forward in finalizing the settlement.
As you might imagine, each case is very unique and the steps involved in handling an auto accident case are far more extensive and nuanced than encapsulated in this article. However, this is meant to serve as a brief overview of some of the things to expect from your auto accident attorney in the pre-litigation process.