HANDLING THE PERSONAL INJURY CASE
THE PRE-SUIT PHASE
Personal injury litigation is all about preparing your case. There is typically an insurance company on the other side, who has experienced attorneys, investigators and other professionals focused on defeating or at least minimizing your claim, so thorough preparation is critical.
Personal injury is different from other kinds of litigation in that the pre-suit phase is so lengthy, and so very important. Most cases are ultimately settled; some prior to a lawsuit being filed, some after. Other cases have to be taken to trial because the insurance company is unwilling to settle on terms the client feels are fair.
The two major issues in personal injury cases are legal liability, and damages. Many times liability may seem clear, but these cases, if they go to trial, are hard-fought by insurance companies, so preparation must be extremely detailed.
The actual event which results in the injury or death of a person is where everything begins. The more information (and evidence) that can be preserved from the event itself, the better. Of course, police and other official reports should always be made as soon as possible. These days nearly everyone has a camera in their mobile telephone, so you should use that capability to capture images of the conditions, damage, and other details. A quick photo is also a great way to capture other information, such as license plate numbers, color, make and model of cars, traffic control signs and signals at the scene, and other pertinent information. In good light it is also a simple matter to photograph documents such as driver’s licenses, insurance cards and auto registration (depending on your camera).
To a large extent, the activities described below are all taking place at roughly the same time, although they are described as distinct steps.
As soon as we are contacted by a personal injury client, we make arragements to meet as soon as possible, travelling to the client’s home (or hospital room), if that would make it easier for the client. We debrief the client, in order to preserve his or her memory of the event when it is freshest in mind.
Initial forms of relief, such as a replacement vehicle must be attended to, along with coordinating with medical providers to assure them of ultimate payment.
At that point, the investigation begins. This involves both the attorneys and private investigators playing a role. We typically send an investigator to the scene of the event, as well as to wherever the vehicles are then located, to photograph the damage in detail. This includes information critical to proving aspects of how the accident occurred. The investigator may interview witnesses in the field, to preserve their description of events. The attorney also interviews witnesses, and evaluates them for use at trial. The investigation phase continues through the end of the case.
Medical treatment of the victims of the incident must be closely monitored, to create and preserve evidence of your actual injuries, and your damages, including pain and suffering. It is important to make sure that your treatment is monitored by medical professionals who are also competent witnesses on your behalf, should that be necessary.
Treatment continues until the patient reaches maximum medical improvement (MMI), that is, the point where recovery is as complete as it is going to get. At that point, you can determine what the permanent disability suffered is, and can gather final cost information relating to treatment, lost wages, property damage, etc.
At this point, we have everything we need to write the Demand Letter. This is a thorough, carefully researched statement of the incident, the basis of legal liability, and the damages sustained. It must be skillfully written to communicate the strength of the case, in order to convince the insurance company to settle the case on terms favorable to our client.
Negotiations frequently take place after the insurance company reviews the Demand Letter, and in many cases, are concluded with a successful settlement, which ends the case at that point. If not, it is necessary to file suit to seek a remedy in court.