A personal injury case does not necessarily proceed according to a strict timeline. Some settle early, some settle late, and some don’t settle at all.
Nevertheless, most personal injury cases share certain features in common. Following is an outline of a typical personal injury case that includes most of these features.
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What You Should Do Immediately After an Accident in Florida
What you do immediately after an accident depends on what type of accident occurred, how severe your injuries are, and other factors.
Following is a list of actions you might take after a vehicle accident. It can be adapted to apply to other types of accidents, such as slip and fall accidents, construction accidents, dog bites, etc.
- Call 911 to report the collision. Police may be dispatched and will complete a crash report.
- Obtain the other driver’s contact and insurance details, and provide the driver with your own information.
- Do not leave the accident scene if it is safe to remain. Wait until the police or the ambulance arrives. Florida can charge you with a crime for leaving the scene of an accident.
- Photograph the scene of the accident, the damage to your car, and any injuries you sustained.
Take as many of these steps as you can, as quickly as you can. If you were injured, however, medical treatment must be your first priority.
Seek Medical Treatment As Soon As Possible
You must seek medical treatment as soon as possible after an accident, even if you don’t believe you were seriously injured. Some injuries, such as traumatic brain injury and whiplash, might not show symptoms right away.
Delaying medical treatment will place the seriousness of your injuries in doubt. It will also allow the opposing party to claim that the accident was not the cause of your injuries.
Insurance, the Florida DMV, and Legal Advice
Take the following steps in the days after the accident:
- Report the accident to your insurance company immediately if your policy requires you to or if you intend to file a claim against the policy. Your policy might require immediate notification.
- If you suffered an injury or there appears to be more than $500 damage to your car, report the accident to the Florida DMV within ten days of the accident (vehicle accidents only).
- Schedule a consultation with a personal injury lawyer. Most personal injury lawyers offer free initial consultations. You can hold the consultation over the phone if you are bedridden.
If your injuries are serious, recruit a friend or family member to take some of these steps for you.
The Investigation and Evidence Collection
Your lawyer will take a variety of actions to investigate your claim and create a theory of the case.
These actions might include:
- Interviewing witnesses
- Obtaining CCTV footage (if available)
- Collecting medical records and police reports
- Contacting expert witnesses to investigate your claim and testify on your behalf
Evidence used at trial must comply with the Florida Evidence Code. Nevertheless, you can use inadmissible evidence in settlement negotiations. A police report, for example, is generally inadmissible in court. However, it will exert leverage in settlement negotiations because the opposing party knows you can have the police officer who wrote it testify in court.
The Settlement Demand Letter
Your lawyer should send the liable party (probably an insurance company) a demand letter stating the accident’s facts, describing your injuries, explaining why the at-fault party is liable, and demanding compensation.
To present your demand logically and clearly, you need to recite all of the most relevant facts, even if they are not in dispute. Perhaps neither side denies that you suffered a slip and fall injury at the defendant’s home, for example. Recite the facts of the accident anyway, along with the assertion that the defendant was at fault.
Settlement discussions usually take a few weeks to a few months. Since you will probably be facing a professional negotiator (an insurance adjuster), let your lawyer negotiate for you. You needn’t worry that your lawyer will settle without your consent. They will discuss any settlements with you before resolving the case.
Factors That Can Delay Settlement
The following factors can slow down the process of reaching a settlement, thereby delaying the final payment of your compensation:
- Delay in reaching Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI): It is difficult to calculate your damages until you have recovered from your injury as much as you are ever going to.
- The complexity of your case: A design defect case against a product manufacturer or a complex medical malpractice claim might require a long investigation period.
- Whether you need to file a lawsuit: You might need to file a lawsuit even if you ultimately seek a settlement. The pretrial discovery process might yield the evidence you need to win your claim.
- The extent to which liability is in dispute: The less clear-cut the defendant’s liability, the longer your settlement will probably take.
- The amount of your claim: The more money you are demanding, the harder the other side will fight to avoid paying. They might even insist on a trial.
Most winning personal injury claimants receive a check within a few months of the date of their injury.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Florida
You might want to file a lawsuit if settlement negotiations stall. You’ll meet the statute of limitations by filing a timely lawsuit, no matter how long the lawsuit takes. You can also gain access to the court-enforced pretrial discovery evidence collection process.
To file a lawsuit, you must:
- Draft and file a formal complaint. This document is tricky to draft and must comply with many procedural requirements.
- Deliver a copy of the complaint and a court summons to the defendant (“service of process”). A third party must perform service of process according to specific procedures.
- Pay the filing fee to the court clerk.
A trial will take place, if at all, several weeks or months later. You can settle your claim and withdraw the lawsuit any time before the jury announces its verdict.
The Civil Trial Process
Only a small percentage of personal injury claims go to trial.
If yours does, it will comply with the following procedures:
- Jury selection – a process where each lawyer seeks to exclude certain jurors
- Opening statements for each side
- Examination and cross-examination (questioning) of witnesses and submission of evidence to the court
- Closing arguments by each side
- Jury instructions
- Jury deliberation, which can take from several minutes to several days
- Final verdict
You have 30 days to file an appeal. Few claimants file appeals because courts usually deny them.
Contact a West Palm Beach Personal Injury Attorney for Help With Your Claim
If you represent yourself during out-of-court negotiations, you are likely to take home far less than you deserve. If you file a personal injury lawsuit, you will likely get lost in a maze of procedural rules. An experienced West Palm Beach personal injury lawyer at Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers can guide you through the complex Florida personal injury compensation system. Call us today at (561)-556-7873 to schedule a free consultation.