There are 3 questions almost every client wonders after getting injured:
1) will I win my case?
2) how much is my case worth? and
3) how long will my case take?
Many times that last question: how long will my case take… eventually changes to “why is my case taking so long?” The quick answer is because a lot has to happen before you can win your personal injury case. Here is a general guide to what typically happens during a case:
After Your Injury
After you are injured, your main concern should be getting 100% healthy. In most circumstances, regaining your health will take time. You may have to go to a hospital, imaging center, chiropractor, physical therapist, and even a surgeon, depending on your injury. The recovery process depends on the person and the injury.
Until we know the extent and severity of your injury, we cannot try to resolve your case. I cannot tell you how many times a client is in a car crash, for example, start to feel better, and think they are going to fully recover. But then, after a few weeks or even months, the client realizes that she is not healing and getting better as she expected. Fast-forward a number of visits with her doctor and the client learns a surgery is needed.
Had we quickly settled the client’s case immediately after the initial injury, yes, the client would have received a quick settlement. But, the settlement would have happened before we knew the full extent of the client’s injury. If we had settled, when the client learned she needed surgery, her claim would have already been over. The key here is if you settle your case too early, and then need additional treatment or suffer additional damages, you will not be able to recover money for the new treatment and damages.
You should only consider settling your case after you are sure that you are healed or as healed as you will be. By being sure that your treatment and recovery is over before you resolve your case, you are greatly reducing the chance that you will settle your case for far less than it is actually worth.
After you have completed your recovery, we will obtain all of your medical records and bills from your doctors and other medical providers. We must have your records and bills so can prove that you were injured because of someone else’s negligence and that you suffered monetary damages.
Once we have all the documents we need, we will draft a demand and send it to the people that hurt you, their employer if they were working, and their insurance company. A demand explains how you were injured, who is at fault for your injury, and how much you want to resolve your case in exchange for not filing a lawsuit.
A demand typically gives the other side 30 days to respond. The other side will usually respond in 1 of 3 ways: 1) agree to pay the demand (this does not happen that often), 2) make a counter-offer and offer to settle the case for less than you demanded, or 3) deny the demand and not offer any money. If you are not satisfied with the response you get to the demand, then the only option is to file a lawsuit.
The “Complaint” is the start of a lawsuit. A Complaint, in general terms, tells the other side and the Court what you say the other side did wrong and how you were injured. After you file the Complaint with the Court, you then need to serve it upon the defendant. Service of the Complaint is typically done by what’s called personal service—having an authorized person physically hand the Complaint along with the other necessary documents to the defendant. Serving the Complaint could take a day, week, month, or longer—it mainly depends on how easy it is to find the defendant and hand them the documents.
After the defendant is served with a Complaint, he has 30 days to file an “Answer.” Within an Answer, the defendant responds to each allegation contained in the Complaint by: 1) admitting, 2) denying, or 3) saying he does not have enough information to respond. In the Answer, you will start to learn how the defendant plans to defend the case.
Discovery is when the parties share information. Under Georgia law, discovery takes a minimum of 6 months in most cases. Discovery can be divided into 2 categories: written discovery and depositions.
Written discovery is made up of interrogatories and requests for production of documents. Interrogatories are questions—parties can ask each other to answer questions about the case. Requests for production of documents are just that—requests for one party to send the other documents about the case.
Parties can also send what are called requests for admission—which are often sent to the other side along with your interrogatories and requests for documents. Requests for admission are similar to the allegations in the Complaint—one party makes a statement and the other side has to either admit, deny, or say it doesn’t have enough information to respond to it.
Through written discovery, you will usually learn the identity of people who you will want to interview. A “deposition” is a formal interview taken under oath—it is very similar to testifying in Court, except you generally don’t do it in a courtroom and there is no judge in the room. During depositions, lawyers from both sides have the opportunity to ask the witness questions about the case. To watch clips of some of our depositions, click here to go to our YouTube page.
Discovery is extremely important because you learn a great amount about the case and obtain documents you will use to prove your case. You also will learn a lot about what the other side thinks and what evidence it has to prove its case. When discovery is over, you may mediate your case or ask to have a trial.
More and more often, judges are requiring parties to mediate before going to trial. Mediation is when the parties meet with a neutral person—usually a lawyer—who tries to help the parties settle the case. The mediator does not decide the merits or make any rulings, but he or she usually gives candid assessments to both sides about the strengths and weaknesses of their cases. Some times cases settle at mediation and sometimes they do not. The mediator cannot make you settle, so ultimately it is your decision. If you decide not to settle, then the only option left is a trial. We have obtained great results at mediation for our clients.
After discovery, the case will be placed on a “trial calendar.” A trial calendar is basically the Court’s schedule of cases that it will hear. Trial calendars usually list cases in order of when they were filed, from oldest to newest. Depending on where your case is pending, it could take a few months or more than a year for your case to have a trial from when discovery ends. We have won at trial for our clients.
After Trial or After Settlement: Subrogation
After your case is over—whether by trial or a settlement before the trial—you may have to deal with something called subrogation. If you have health insurance or receive certain government benefits, you may have to pay them back—that is called subrogation. After we obtain a recovery for your, we will work with the entities that paid for your benefits to reduce the amount of money that they want back. In short, the less money you owe in subrogation, the more money you will keep.
How long does it take to receive a settlement from a car accident? Read here
How long do slip and fall settlements take? Read here
As you can see, a lot has to happen before a case is over. Insurance companies and other defendants hope that you will be impatient and want to settle your case for less if they try to drag it out, so they will usually try to delay the case even more. You can also tell that during the case, your lawyer will do a lot of work during all the different stages of the case. Remember, you do not pay us until we win the case—so while we are working hard for you, you are not out any money. If you would like a free consultation about your personal injury case, please contact us.