Despite conventional wisdom, every personal injury case is different. The facts of the accident are unique, the injuries are likewise unique and the manner in which the matter is handled must be carefully tailored to each particular case and client.
There is, however, a certain framework within which personal injury lawyers handle their clients’ cases. It is important to remember that just as each case is unique, so is the client and that client’s needs must be tended to as though he or she is our only client.
The following is the general framework within which we work – subject to all of the modifications that are unique to each particular matter.
Personal injury cases take anywhere from six months to two to three years to resolve, whether that be by settlement, arbitration or trial. I always advise my clients that they must be patient and that the wheels of justice turn ever so slowly. There are periods throughout a case when things get amped up and then quiet down again.
In order to even begin settlement negotiations, we must collect reports and bills from your doctors, the hospitals, information from your employer regarding your loss of earnings and, of course, information gathered regarding the facts of the case through witnesses, police reports and a plethora of other possible sources. Once all of this information is gathered, I am able to begin to analyze your case in terms of its reasonable value and begin negotiations with the insurance company representing the alleged at-fault party or parties.
But before we even get to that point, here’s what needs to happen:
It is very important that your doctors, and your lawyer, know about all injuries or medical problems that existed before your accident and those that came about after the accident. I’ve had great cases that literally disintegrated when these conditions were not disclosed early on. Sometimes this happens because we’re human and just forget BUT it is very important to try and recall all such problems. You need to know that the insurance companies keep a database of all claims made by individuals and they will likely know more about your medical and claims history than you do!
Be sure to tell your doctors about all of your complaints. I always tell my clients to take an imaginary trip from the top of their head to the tip of their toes and describe each ache, pain and symptom to the doctor so that it can be noted and analyzed. Diary Keep a diary or journal of your experiences after the accident. What hurts? What kind of treatment are you getting? Are you improving? How is your life changing? What could you do before the accident that you can’t do now? Keep a record of all of your out-of-pocket expenses.
If the insurance company calls you for any reason whatsoever, I always tell my clients that the answer to any question is "Lowell Steiger." As sophomoric as it may sound, if they say "How’s the weather?" you say "Lowell Steiger, (323) 852-1100 ." Do not talk to anyone other than your attorney, your doctor and, if you must talk to someone else, a trusted immediate family member.
Do not sign any documents without your lawyer’s approval.
In some cases, the other side will put you under surveillance. I always tell my clients that you have nothing to fear when your case is legitimate. As an attorney, I go to great pains to be sure that the cases in my caseload are always legitimate. This begins with the new-client interview process. Do not answer questions about your case to anyone other than your doctor or lawyer. You should be suspicious of anyone unfamiliar to you approaching you with questions about your case. Simply tell them that you have been instructed by your attorney to not discuss your case
The Lawsuit (Suing the "Bad Guys") If we can’t come to a reasonable settlement with the insurance company, then I must file a complaint against the at-fault party or parties on your behalf. In other words, we sue them. The party or parties that are sued then give the complaint to their insurance company who turns it over to their attorneys. Within approximately four weeks, the attorneys "answer" the complaint.
At that time, they will serve us with written questions called "interrogatories" and a demand for production of relevant documents (i.e., medical records, loss of earnings verification, police report, photographs, etc.). They will also ask to take your deposition which is really just an oral version of the questions asked during the written interrogatory phase. All responses, whether written or oral, are done under oath. You will be fully prepared for your deposition – I always spend many hours reviewing the facts of the case with my clients way in advance of the deposition. The procedure is explained to you in detail. Naturally, you will be accompanied by an attorney who is there to represent your interests and vigorously protect your rights.
And remember: Everything that they ask of you, we ask of them – we’ll take their depositions and serve interrogatory questions.
Although there is much more to the process, I hope that this gives you somewhat of an idea as to what to expect.
If you have questions, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (323) 852-1100 .