If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident, you may be confused about what to do. We have outlined some of the most important stages and elements of a personal injury claim and lawsuit.
Stage 1: Medical Treatment
The most important thing to do after you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident is to receive the appropriate medical treatment right away. Your recovery should be your number one priority the days following your accident. Not only is it important to find a treating doctor immediately so that you can start the road to recovery as soon as possible, but Florida Personal Injury Protection (PIP) laws require that your initial treatment must be rendered within 14 days of the motor vehicle accident.
Stage 2: Find an Experienced Attorney
It is possible to work with the negligent party’s insurance company to settle your claim before a lawsuit it filed. However, this can be confusing and time consuming. That is when an attorney would be beneficial to you. We offer a free consultation to discuss the facts of the accident, your injuries, and the process going forward. When you contact an attorney’s office to discuss your case, be sure that you are speaking to an attorney and not a case manager. All to often when you hire a law firm to represent you in a personal injury lawsuit, you work with a case manager and do not meet the attorney until the morning of trial. Throughout your claim and lawsuit, it is important to work with an attorney who is accessible and available to answer any questions or concerns you may have along the way.
Stage 3: Making a Claim with the Insurance Company
Before filing suit, your attorney may try to settle out of court. If your injuries were caused by the negligence of another, Florida law allows you to receive the following damages:
1. The reasonable value or expense of past medical treatment;
2. The reasonable value or expense of future medical treatment;
3. Lost wages; and
4. Pain and suffering (if your doctor determines that you have a permanent injury).
It is easy for your attorney to determine the amount of past medical bills because making a demand is typically done after you have reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). Most of the time, your doctor will inform you when you have reached MMI, meaning that you have received medical treatment and your conditions are not expected to get any better. As far as future medical bills, your treating doctor can predict the medical treatment and the cost of treatment that you will need in the future. After your attorney has determined your past and future medical expenses, the amount of lost wages, if any, as well as a reasonable amount for pain and suffering, they will make a demand to the negligent party’s insurance company. Most of the time, this will initiate negotiations between your attorney and the insurance company. If you and the insurance company cannot agree on an amount to settle the claim, your attorney may file a lawsuit.
Stage 4: Filing a Lawsuit
Your attorney will prepare a Complaint and file it with the court with the appropriate fees. The negligent party will need to be served by a process server. They will then have 20 days to respond to the lawsuit. At that time, discovery will be conducted. Discovery consists of written questions to both parties by the attorneys, depositions, requesting copies of medical records, and investigation such as social media and surveillance.
After discovery is complete, the parties will attend mediation. At mediation, the parties and their attorneys will be present. There will be a neutral party present, usually a personal injury attorney themself, called a mediator. The mediator is not a judge or jury—they do not decide the case. The Plaintiff’s attorney will present their side of the case and your attorney will make a presentation next. After the attorneys present the case, the parties will separate and begin negotiations at an attempt to settle the case before incurring the costs of trial. If the case does not settle at mediation, the parties can continue to negotiate even through the start the trial.
Stage 5: Trial
Most personal injury cases to not go to trial. If your case goes to trial, typically 25 people are randomly chosen and the attorneys will choose 6 jurors to hear your case. The parties will present evidence and testimony and the decision of the 6 jurors is binding on the parties.