Before the Lawsuit
If you’ve been injured in an accident and aren’t getting any better, you’re probably contemplating hiring a lawyer. But what does that mean? Do you have to sue the person who hit you? How long is the process going to take? Your car is out of commission, you’ve had to miss work, and you need money now to pay the bills.
First of all, it’s always a good idea to at least talk to a personal injury lawyer after you’ve been injured. The attorney has been through this process with his clients over and over and over, whereas you have not (hopefully). He knows how to help you manage your treatment. He knows how to work with insurance companies to get your medical expenses paid while you recover. He knows what information the at-fault driver’s insurance company needs so they can properly evaluate your claim. He can make an educated assessment about the value of your case, and he can help you decide whether to file a lawsuit or not.
Believe it or not, many car accident cases can and should be resolved before filing a lawsuit. But that doesn’t mean your case will be quick or easy. It most likely won’t be. Insurance companies don’t readily part with their money unless they have to.
With that in mind, here are some brief overviews of the stages of a personal injury case -- one in which a lawsuit is not filed.
Stage One: OPEN CASE
- Sign Representation Agreement
- Get Police Report
- Inform Insurance Cos. of Claim and Representation
You have met with or talked to an Attorney and the Attorney believes your case is worth pursuing. You now complete your Intake Forms and sign a Representation Agreement. The Attorney’s office will obtain the Police Report and any other documents you have related to the case. The Attorney’s office will also obtain contact information for all insurance companies involved – auto, health, first-party, third-party, etc. and send Representation Letters to all insurance companies.
Stage Two: TREATING
- Client progresses to MMI
- Attorney/Client contact monthly for treatment status
You are going to a doctor or another health care provider and obtaining treatment for your injuries. Receiving consistent treatment is the right thing to do for your health, and it’s critical for the case. If you don’t obtain treatment, or there are large gaps in treatment, the insurance adjuster and a jury might assume that you weren’t hurt or got better. Thus, if you are still experiencing pain, it is imperative that you obtain consistent care. You should keep your Attorney updated regarding your progress and treatment, and at the same time, your Attorney should try to contact you at least once a month. He needs to know as soon as you have reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) and are released from care. MMI is the point at which you have recovered 100% or there is no further treatment that will improve your condition.
Stage Three: GET RECORDS
- Provide an updated list of providers
- Attorney will obtain Payment Summaries
- Attorney will obtain Medical and Billing Records
You have reached MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement), which means you’ve ended your medical treatment and have recovered as much as possible. This is the time when the Attorney’s office will obtain all payment summaries from insurance companies that have paid medical expenses, all medical, chiropractic, and therapy records, and billing records on your behalf.
In order to obtain these records, you will need to provide your Attorney with a list of your health care providers from whom you have received treatment for your injury. In that list, you’ll want to include the name of the clinic, the name of the treating physician, and the contact information for the clinic and physician (name, phone number, address, etc.).
You’ll also need to provide your Attorney a list of any and all past health care providers from whom you received treatment for the five years prior to your injury. Information regarding treatment prior to the injury will help your Attorney prove that your current injury is unrelated to any prior incident or condition.
NOTE: This step is usually a bottleneck in the process, not because your Attorney is sleeping on the job, but because medical facilities and their records departments are large bureaucracies that take time to respond to records requests. Your patience during this step is appreciated!
Stage Four: REVIEW RECORDS
- Attorney to review all medical records
- Attorney to draft detailed Demand Letter
- Attorney to obtain Expert if necessary
The Attorney will review all the documentation and put together a detailed demand package to be submitted to the negligent party or insurance company. The Attorney will call you during this process to get updates on how you’re doing now, how you’ve been affected, etc. The attorney will also seek your approval prior to sending out the Demand Letter.
It's important for you to know that the doctors who have provided you care aren’t necessarily helpful in a legal case. Your Attorney will do everything he can to seek your providers’ cooperation, but it’s not guaranteed. That being the case, the strength of your case sometimes hinges on what your treating providers say and what they’ve written in their medical records.
If you have no helpful treating providers, your Attorney will consider retaining an expert, which is someone in the relevant field hired to assist with a legal case.
Stage Five: NEGOTIATION / MEDIATION
- Attorney to Negotiate
- Push Mediation
- Prepare for Mediation
The demand package has been submitted to the insurance company. Generally, it takes about a month to hear back. As soon as your Attorney hears from the insurance company, he will notify you to discuss the offer. The hope is to get a strong first offer and resolve the case in short order. However, depending on the initial offer, it may take time to negotiate with the insurance company to obtain the best offer for you. Your attorney may need to provide additional documentation or clarification to the insurance company. Questions may need to be answered. Take these requests from the insurance company as opportunities to prove and strengthen your case (or at least learn more about the case).
During this step, your Attorney is also working with medical experts, notifying lienholders (health insurance companies or other entities who have paid for your medical expenses) of a potential settlement, in order to obtain approval of the settlement, and negotiate the liens down. Lienholders have a right to be reimbursed from the responsible party’s insurance company for amounts they’ve paid in medical expenses.
If the case is scheduled for Mediation, your Attorney will prepare as if going to trial. He will create a detailed submission to the mediator. He will think about and address all the weaknesses of your case. He will prepare your case to get the best offer available from the opposing party. And he will prepare you for the mediation as well by meeting with you and discussing what to expect.
Stage Six: SETTLE & CLOSE
- Sign Release and Settlement Agreement
- Get Check
- Distribute Funds
- Close Case
Good news! The case is settled! But the case isn’t done until the money is in the bank. This is another area that gets bottlenecked.
Your Attorney will provide the opposing party everything they need to send the Release and Settlement Agreement (e.g., Tax ID number and payment instructions). You will need to sign the Settlement Agreement and Release, which will allow the insurance company to issue a check.
You will then receive a Distribution Sheet from your Attorney which shows the total settlement, the amounts deducted (for your Attorney’s fee, expenses, reimbursement claims, etc.), and the amount that goes to you. Once you approve of the Distribution and the check clears, we issue you a check.
At that point, your case is closed! Yes, there are lots of stages, and your case might take six months, a year, or even multiple years to resolve, but hiring a personal attorney to go about it the right way will benefit you in the end.
The attorneys at Bailey | Stock | Harmon | Cottam | Lopez LLP are here to help you. Call us today at (307) 222-4932 to schedule your free consultation.