The reason why someone may file a personal injury lawsuit varies from injuries sustained in a car accident to injuries acquired because of a doctor’s mistake. If you have been injured and think you have a personal injury case, it is important to begin by taking the correct steps. Below is a general guide to the necessary steps taken in any personal injury case.
1. Seek Medical Attention
2. Hire an Attorney
3. File an Insurance Claim or Demand a Settlement
4. File a Lawsuit
6. Another Chance at Settling
First Step: Seek Medical Attention
This step is not only for your own health and safety, but is also a vital step that will help allow you recover compensation. By seeking immediate medical help you improve your chances of proving injuries during settlement negotiations with an insurance company or during a lawsuit. If you do not seek medical treatment for your injuries, an insurance adjuster, judge, or jury may have a hard time believing that you were truly injured in the accident.
Second Step: Hire an Attorney
An attorney can assess if you have a viable personal injury case and determine the best course of action for your case. An attorney will investigate the claim and review any medical records. An attorney can deal with insurance adjusters for you, negotiate settlements, and represent your best interests if a lawsuit is needed.
Third Step: File an Insurance Claim or Demand a Settlement
In a personal injury case, claims are usually filed against the insurance company for the at-fault party. If you are injured in a car accident, a claim will be filed with the at-fault driver’s insurance company before a lawsuit is filed. A minimal amount of car insurance coverage is required in most states. Also, insurance companies are required to provide “uninsured driver” protection in case a person is hit by an uninsured driver.
If a doctor makes a mistake during a procedure the patient may file a claim with the insurance company through which the doctor has medical malpractice insurance coverage. After filing a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company, a claims adjuster will be assigned to investigate the claim and negotiate a settlement. If an insurance company is not involved, a demand letter can be sent to the other party demanding a settlement for injuries sustained.
Additional Steps if Necessary…
Fourth Step: File a Lawsuit
If a settlement cannot be reached, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit. Under Texas Statute, a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date that the injury occurred. A lawsuit can be expensive and should be avoided if possible. Filing a lawsuit means possible additional attorney fees, filing fees, service expenses, court reporter fees, transcript fees, copying fees, and even time off work.
An attorney can file a complaint or a petition on your behalf with the appropriate county depending on where the injury occurred. The attorney will also have the other party served. The other party will answer the complaint and file any counterclaims that they may have. If a counterclaim is filed then your attorney will respond to the counterclaim on your behalf.
Fifth Step: Discovery
The discovery process begins once a complaint is filed, the other party is served, and all answers, counterclaims, and responses have been filed. Each party may be required to answer interrogatories, which are a list of printed questions provided by the other side. Depositions may also be taken during the discovery process. Depositions are part of the pre-trial discovery process involved in litigation.
Each side to a lawsuit is allowed to depose the other party and witnesses before going to trial. Each side’s attorney will ask a series of questions under oath to the person being deposed and each answer will be recorded by an official court reporter. Testimony given at deposition is important for counsel. Depositions allow attorneys to ensure that there will be no surprises in court.
At a deposition an attorney is allowed to gather information about the testimony that will be given in court by asking the same or similar questions that will be asked at the time of trial. The process allows for the attorney to gather evidence and to have testimony on record that can be used to impeach a witness if the answer given during the deposition does not match up to the answer given at trial.
Sixth Step: Another Chance at Settling
Settlement discussions will continue throughout the lawsuit. Discovery helps to root out which side has the stronger case and may lead to more pressure to settle the case rather than going to trial. Arbitration and mediation are also two options that may be explored during a lawsuit in hopes of reaching a settlement before the suit goes to trial.
If mediation or arbitration commences, a neutral third party will determine what to award and to what party. Arbitration awards usually cannot be reviewed by the court, however, the Supreme Court of Texas expanded the judicial review of arbitration decisions. In Nafta Traders, Inc. v. Quinn, the court ruled that the Texas Arbitration Act superseded the Federal Arbitration Act, allowing parties to contract the right of judicial review of arbitration awards.
Also, the Supreme Court of Texas, in East Texas Salt Water Disposal Company v. Werline, ruled that if an arbitration decision is vacated by a lower court a party also has the right to then appeal that decision to a higher court. At any point during the lawsuit before a final judgment is reached the two parties may settle if they come to an agreement.
Last Step: Trial
If there is no hope in settling, then the last option is to go to trial. Personal injury trials can vary in length from hours, to days, to weeks, or longer. If the other party can prove that you share some part of the blame for the injuries that you sustained, then any personal injury award may be reduced. In Texas, the amount that you would receive will be reduced by the amount equal to the percentage of your fault.
If you have been injured and have a personal injury claim, it is important to take the correct steps right from the start. If the proper steps are not taken you may not receive the money owed to you for the injury you received or may receive a smaller settlement or court award than you deserve. A personal injury attorney can guide you through the process and make sure the proper steps are taken.
To speak with an attorney at Sutliff & Stout about your case, please call 512-616-2222 or fill out the short form below. We look forward to serving you.