Most people are unfamiliar with the process of filing any type of lawsuit. That is perfectly understandable. This article will help explain the flow involved in filing a personal injury suit. Of course, a few things will vary based on which state and which court, but the general concepts will apply universally here in the U.S.
Locate a Qualified Attorney
After suffering an injury in an accident, the victim needs to find the best personal injury lawyer available in the area. There’s really only one shot at the case, and it doesn’t make sense to choose someone with a low level of success. Some people try to handle the case without legal assistance, but taking a shot in the dark like that doesn’t usually produce the greatest results possible. Injury victims with attorneys representing them get larger settlements on average. Having a highly-skilled professional to navigate the legal system gives the claimant an edge and significantly reduces the amount of work they need to do.
Statute of Limitations
There is a deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit that can vary from state to state. This time limit is called the statute of limitations in legal language. Various types of cases have different deadlines, but two years is the typical limit in most personal injury cases.
The invisible clock starts ticking when the injury occurs, or when the person discovers the injury, or at the point when the individual should have known he or she is injured. Unless the plaintiff files the lawsuit in time before the expiration of the statute of limitations, they will not be able to ever file a lawsuit for the injury. In the case where a plaintiff is quickly reaching this deadline, but there isn’t enough information at the time to adequately file a complaint, it is possible that there are other legal documents that can be filed to help protect this person’s right to sue.
Here are links to specific statute of limitations laws for the areas Dash Injury Law Firm serves:
Explanation of a Personal Injury Claim
Let’s look into a few details that will explain this type of lawsuit. A personal injury claim is the legal process by which an injured party (the plaintiff) pursues financial compensation from the party (the defendant) believed to be responsible for the injury. The victim may feel the other party is responsible due to negligence or because there is insurance that covers the injury, or possibly both.
The first step in this process, known as the pre-litigation phase, is to send a demand letter. In this letter, the victim is formally asking the defendant for payment of the damages. If the insurance provider for the defendant will not pay or if no compromise can be reached, the process moves into the second step of filing a lawsuit. This is considered the litigation phase and your lawsuit can be filed in either a small claims court or civil court. More information on these two types of courts can be found below.
Different Types of Courts
Small Claims Court
Personal injury cases that have a lower amount of damages (the dollar figure being requested to compensate the victim’s losses) are filed in small claims court. In general, an amount between $3,000 to $15,000 falls within the range set by most states as a small claims court limit. For example, the Small Claim Court limit in California and District of Columbia is $10,000 while the limit in Virginia is $5,000.
If the amount of damages being sought by a victim falls within the amount allowed in small claims court in their state, they may want to seriously consider filing in this court. Cases here tend to move through the legal process much faster and less formally than in civil court. Often, after the initial filing of papers, the case can be finalized after only one appearance in court. In most, if not all, jurisdictions, you will have to make a demand first before filing a small claims court complaint.
When the amount of damages sought is over the maximum limit for filing in small claims court, the victim needs to file the complaint (name of the document used to begin the lawsuit) in the civil court system. Here are some more details on this process:
Send a Demand Letter
With a clear understanding of what happens up to this point, we will now look into the process of sending a demand letter. This letter literally becomes the focal point of a personal injury claim. Within this letter, the victim verbalizes in writing to the insurance provider why the company needs to pay the damages being demanded. The following will be included:
- Why the defendant is liable and legally responsible
- A summary of sustained injuries
- Medical treatment required and their costs
- Plaintiff’s lost income due to time off work
- Other damages like pain and suffering
After the insurance company receives the demand letter, its representatives can review the claim and may then decide to pay the requested amount. However, in most cases, they will offer a lower amount and will attempt to negotiate a settlement. At this stage, it is critical to have mastery of the facts and the law which give rise to liability and the medical records which would justify the damages amount. Many disputes leading to the filing of the civil complaint originates from disagreement on the value of damages.
The Insurance company can also decide not to pay the claim at all. This is referred to as a denied claim. The insurer could deny the claim for some of the following reasons:
- The insurer decides that the accident and injury was caused by the victim
- There is insufficient evidence of liability and/or damages
- The insurer believes the injuries were not caused by the accident
If the insurer refuses to pay at all or not enough, the plaintiff’s attorney will move the case to the next phase, filing a complaint.
File a Complaint
The complaint is filed against the at-fault party/parties (tortfeasor(s)) and his/her insurance company will pay for the defense of his case. The following is typically the main components of the civil complaint:
- All involved parties
- The court’s jurisdiction in the case
- Plaintiff’s legal claims
- Evidence and facts supporting the claims
- Judgment demand stating amount plaintiff is seeking
After filing the complaint, the next step is to serve the defendant in person with the complaint. Generally, the delivery is done by a process server. The defendant then has 30 days to respond. Failure to do so means a default judgment is awarded to the plaintiff by the court. Otherwise, the case proceeds forward.
Speak with a Legal Professional
An experienced, highly skilled attorney with a successful track record in personal injury cases can discuss the details of your injury with you and determine the best course of action to help you get the rightful compensation to which you are entitled. Dash Injury Law Firm is dedicated to fighting for justice and compensation that is owed to an injured plaintiff. Contact our legal team today for a free case consultation.