Personal Injury Claims FAQs
- What is the Process of Bringing a Personal Injury Claim in California?
- What Do Personal Injury Lawyers Do?
- What Types of Cases do Personal Injury Lawyers Handle?
- What do Personal Injury Attorneys Actually Do?
- How Much Money can a Personal Injury Lawyer Recover?
- What are the Reasons that a Personal Injury Lawyer Might not Take Your Claim?
- Do You Really Need a Lawyer?
- What Qualities Should I Look for in a Personal Injury Attorney?
- What Makes Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC Different From Most Other California Personal Injury Law Firms?
- When Should I Hire a Personal Injury Attorney?
- How Serious is Your Injury?
- Do You Believe that Your Injury was Caused by Someone Else?
- Is an Insurance Company Representative Contacting You?
- Is the Company Refusing to Pay or Offering an Unreasonably Low Amount?
- Are You Comfortable with the Law and the Settlement Process?
- Is the Insurance Company Disputing the Liability of its Insured?
It happens in the blink of an eye. You’re going about life as usual, and then next thing you know an accident happens and you’ve been hurt. Sudden injuries can turn your world upside down physically, emotionally, and especially financially if you can’t work or find yourself stuck with massive medical and property repair bills. Personal injury claims in California are designed to help you recover much needed compensation to handle your bills, care for yourself, and make up for the suffering you endured; they can put your world back together when it’s fallen apart. Understanding the personal injury process will help you understand the timeline, the steps, and, most importantly, what you can do to help a California personal injury attorney maximize the chance of success for your claim.
After an Accident Occurs
The moments after an accident are emotionally charged. You may be feeling an adrenaline rush, overwhelmed, or just numb. You’re probably not thinking about legal claims or compensation. You may also have questions about what comes next – many people do. However, it’s important to know what you do or don’t do during this time can help any future claim you bring or derail it completely.
Seek Medical Attention
It’s critical for you to seek medical care as soon as you can following an accident even if you think you weren’t hurt. Some injuries, like traumatic brain injuries, may not show symptoms for several days but can kill you if they aren’t diagnosed and treated. Aside from protecting your health, medical care provides valuable records of when and how you were injured that can help prove you were hurt during the accident. It’s important to follow all treatment instructions, take medicine as prescribed, and attend all follow-ups.
Notify the Authorities
Depending on whether you were in a car accident, out shopping, or injured on the job, you’ll want to report the accident to an authority and make a record. This could be notifying the police, speaking to the manager of a store, or talking to your supervisor. They should investigate and make a report of the situation, which can preserve information that might otherwise be lost.
Gather Important Evidence
Having records and evidence to help show how the accident happened and the damage caused makes it easier for your attorney to argue for maximum compensation and establish the other party’s fault. Take pictures of the accident scene and, if you were in a car or motorcycle accident, the vehicles. Be sure to photograph traffic lights, cracked pavement, and any evidence that could prove fault like skid marks on the road. Get contact information from any witnesses and get license and insurance information from any involved motorists.
Don’t Say the Wrong Thing
It’s just as important to avoid doing certain things as it is to see a doctor or photograph the scene. Do not apologize to anyone, admit fault, say that you are “ok” or “fine”, or in any way comment about your health or whether you were hurt. These can be used to claim you were either not injured or that you were admitting fault for the accident. Also, avoid giving any recorded statements – even to your insurance company.
Contact an Attorney
It’s important to find an experienced California personal injury attorney right away when you’ve been injured. They can help you protect your rights, investigate the accident, handle communications between insurance companies and the at-fault party, and give you peace of mind so you can focus on healing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and choose an attorney that you feel comfortable working with on your claim.
The results of your attorney’s investigation will determine what is included in a demand letter sent to either the at-fault party or their insurance company. The letter states your intent to be compensated for your damages, explain why they are at-fault, describe the severity of your injuries, and go over the compensation demand.
Once the letter is sent, the recipient can either respond or ignore it. If they respond, your attorney will negotiate on your behalf with them to see if a fair number can be reached. If not, or, if they ignore the letter, your attorney will file a formal civil lawsuit seeking personal injury damages court and serve it on them (the defendant).
Personal Injury Claims in Court
Once a formal claim is filed, the court understands you are pursuing compensation from an at-fault party. The defendant is legally obligated to respond within a certain time period or a judgment will be entered against them.
After they respond to your claim, the parties move to discovery – a process of asking for, producing, and examining evidence and responses to questions. Parties and witnesses may also be asked questions under oath during depositions. Your attorney will use this information along with information gathered during their initial investigation to try negotiating a favorable settlement before the case has to proceed to trial.
Very few cases go all the way to trial. In fact, close to 95 percent settle out of court. A settlement means that you will receive a certain amount of compensation, but you will agree to dismiss your lawsuit, forfeit any claims to sue in the future, and agree that neither party will admit any fault. Settlement usually depends on the strength of your claim and the negotiating skill of your attorney, so make sure your personal injury attorney has extensive experience and success in pre-trial negotiations.
Don’t Wait Too Long
Even though you may be understandably traumatized and overwhelmed by the accident that took place and focused on your injuries, it’s important not to delay pursuing compensation for your damages too long. In California, most personal injury victims have 2 years from the date they were injured to file a claim in court seeking damages. When the government is involved, the time frame is even shorter. There are a few circumstances in which you have longer than 2 years to file, such as a minor plaintiff, military service, or the defendant is absent from the state, but a personal injury attorney will be able to tell you if any of these exceptions apply in your case.
Failing to act within the appropriate timeframe means you will likely be barred from filing a claim at a later date due to the statute of limitations. Any case you file with the court after this date will be dismissed, meaning you have permanently lost the ability to recover any compensation from the party that injured you.
Get Help Filing a Personal Injury Claim Today
If you or a loved one were hurt in an accident, you may be understandably overwhelmed, traumatized, and unsure what to do next. To protect your rights, contact the skilled California personal injury attorneys at Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC to put someone in your corner who will fight for what you deserve. We have more than 20 years’ experience delivering aggressive, personalized representation for victims like you and recovered millions for our clients. Steven M. Sweat has been named a Super Lawyer, placing him in the top 5% of all California personal injury attorneys. Contact us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (866)-966-5240 or on our online Contact Page to schedule a no obligation free case review – you pay nothing until we win your case. Let us review your situation, answer your questions, and show you how we can help you get back on your feet.
If you have been in an accident, you might wonder whether or not you should talk to a lawyer. You might also wonder whether getting help from a personal injury lawyer is necessary or if you can instead handle your claim on your own. A personal injury lawyer is a type of attorney who practices in an area of civil law called tort law. Tort law includes cases in which the plaintiffs have suffered civil wrongs because of the negligent, reckless or intentional actions of others. Personal injury attorneys represent injured plaintiffs in order to try to recover compensation for them.
Personal injury lawyers might handle a variety of different types of claims. Some of the most common types of personal injury cases include the following:
- Car accidents
- Commercial truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Dog bites
- Other vehicle accidents
- Fires and burn injuries
- Premises liability
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Wrongful death
- Products liability
- Workers' compensation
This is not an exhaustive list. Personal injury claims might involve any case in which a person is injured and suffers harm because of the negligent or intentional actions of others.
The steps that a personal injury lawyer might take in a claim will depend on the type of case that it is. There are some general steps that apply to most personal injury cases, however. Here are some things that your personal injury attorney might do in your case.
1. Evaluate potential claims
Personal injury attorneys carefully screen potential claims that people present to them. Since most injury lawyers work on a contingency basis, they are careful about the claims that they will agree to accept. The evaluation process may include an investigation into the merits of the claims.
2. Gather evidence
Personal injury lawyers may gather evidence to support their clients' claims. They may hire accident reconstruction experts to show what happened in the moments leading up to the accidents by taking careful measurements and photographs and then conducting scientific analyses of the data. They may also get copies of the police reports about the accident and their clients' medical reports. The attorneys may use investigators to find witnesses and get their statements. Gathering the evidence can play an important role in the ultimate outcomes of the cases.
3. Negotiate with the insurance companies
When you have a personal injury attorney representing you, your lawyer will handle the negotiations with the insurance companies that are involved in the case. As a part of this process, they might review the policies and determine the maximum amount of money that might be available. Your lawyer might also advise you against signing any documents that the insurance company might send to you or giving recorded statements. Finally, the attorney may negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf and send a demand letter outlining your legal claims and the amount of compensation that you are demanding to settle your claim.
4. Draft and file complaints
If the insurance company refuses to settle your claim for a reasonable amount or disputes liability, your lawyer may draft and file a civil complaint with the court that has jurisdiction to hear your claim. This document is a legal pleading that is filed to formally commence a lawsuit against the defendant or defendants. Once it is filed, it will need to be properly served on the defendant and the insurance company. The defendant will then have time to file his or her reply.
5. Go through the discovery process
After the complaint and answer have been filed, the case will go through a process called discovery. During this phase, both your lawyer and the defense lawyer will exchange the evidence that each side has in the case. Your lawyer may also send interrogatories to the defendant and conduct depositions.
6. Prepare for and go to trial
Personal injury attorneys continue to negotiate with the insurance companies throughout the pendency of their cases. Most of the time, the claims will be settled before they go to trial. However, good personal injury attorneys prepare their cases as if they are going to trial. If the insurance companies refuse to settle the cases for reasonable amounts, the lawyers may litigate for their clients at jury trials.
The facts of every personal injury case are different. There is not a single amount of money that you might expect to recover in your case. The amount that you might expect to receive will depend on such factors as the extent and severity of your injuries, the expected length of your recovery, your medical expenses and income losses, and other relevant facts. Your personal injury attorney will value your claim and give you a range of compensation amounts that you might expect a fair settlement offer to fall in so that you can have a better idea.
There are several reasons why a personal injury attorney might not agree to take your claim. The fact that you were injured is not enough by itself. A lawyer will look at what happened in your accident to determine whether or not the other party's actions constituted legal negligence or an intentional tort. If the actions do not meet the legal standards, a lawyer will be unlikely to agree to represent you.
If your injuries were very minor or you suffered few losses, an attorney is also unlikely to accept your case. Lawyers can't accept claims based on a speculation of what could have happened. It also is expensive to present cases, and if your losses are minor, it might not make sense for an attorney to litigate your claim.
Another reason a personal injury lawyer might not agree to accept your case is if you have already had several lawyers or appear as if you are shopping around for the attorney who will give you the highest quote for a potential settlement. It is important for people to find personal injury lawyers with whom they can work well.
It is possible for people to file personal injury claims and negotiate with the insurance companies on their own. However, it is not a good idea for people to take this approach in most cases. Tort law is complex, and personal injury attorneys have studied the law in law school and afterward in their practices. The law frequently changes, and your lawyer may be current with all of the changes that have occurred.
However, there are certain cases in which you might not need a lawyer. If your injuries were very minor or you only suffered property damage to a vehicle, you might be able to handle the negotiations with the insurance company on your own. However, if the insurance company denies your claim or if there are several parties that were involved, it might be a good idea for you to consult with a personal injury attorney. You should also talk to a lawyer if your injuries were serious and to evaluate any offers of compensation that you might receive. To learn more about your potential claim, contact the Law Offices of Steven M. Sweat today to schedule a free case evaluation.
Five qualities of top personal injury attorneys in California and elsewhere, in my opinion, as an accident lawyer with a solid reputation and over 18 years experience litigating injury and wrongful death claims are as follows:
- Honesty: Hiring legal counsel following a catastrophic injury or death of a loved one is not something that should be taken lightly. It is a relationship that should be built on trust and that trust begins with the very first interactions that a prospective client has with potential legal counsel. Lawyers who send “personal representatives” to your home or hospital unsolicited by you or who make grandiose or unsubstantiated promises about your case, are not being honest with you. This dishonesty can and will spill over into the life of the representation. Hiring an honest attorney is crucial to obtaining just and fair recovery. Having a lawyer that shoots straight and tells you the good and the bad aspects of the claim and gives you a realistic picture of the potential value of the claim and the length of time it will take to resolve is key to a just and fair resolution of your claims.
- Compassion: Without compassion, an attorney is simply in the business of making money. Compassion is the key component to being in the business of helping people take bad situations and make them better. Compassion comes from many places but, a lawyer with life experiences same or similar to yours can make all the difference. People who have seen injury and death firsthand and know the toll that it takes on people’s lives and the lives of the families who care for these injury victims or who have lost loved ones make the best personal injury attorneys, in my opinion.
- Creativity: Lawyers too often analyze situations based upon preconceived notions of what a “good case” looks like. The better lawyers see past obstacles to recovery and can think of creative ways to establish liability, find parties who should be held accountable for negligent or intentional acts of wrongdoing, and find sources of payment to compensate the victim.
- Tenacity: A quality personal injury lawyer must have a “never say die” attitude when it comes to advocating on behalf of his clients. That attorney cannot take no for an answer and must persist in the face of adversity time and time again until the case is resolved in his or her client’s favor.
- Personal Attention: If a client is just a number and one of thousands of files, full reasonable compensation will never be achieved. There are far too many “settlement mills in California and elsewhere in the U.S. Personal injury law firms that take in thousands of files, leave the “work up” of these files to non-lawyers, and simply try to “take what they can get” and move on.
- Honesty: Our philosophy is to always provide our clients with clear, honest legal advice about their claims. Our attorneys have a combined 40 plus years of experience in representing accident victims and their families. We have seen thousands of different types of claims and know exactly why claims succeed or fail. We express this analysis to each and every client so that they have a realistic picture of both the value of their claim and the process involved in seeing the claim to its rightful conclusion.
- Compassion: All of our attorneys have seen firsthand the toll that is exacted upon individuals and their families from the negligent and wrongful acts of others. We have helped victims of sexual assault, motor vehicle collisions involving drunk drivers, and many other scenarios that have torn the heart out of families. We have seen firsthand the emotional toll this causes and we have combated the often callous attitude of insurance adjusters and others as to how to value this pain.
- Creativity: Our law firm has taken cases that were rejected by other attorneys who could not see around the obstacles to recovery. We take pride in analyzing each and every situation to determine all possible avenues that can be taken to obtain monetary compensation for any personal injury or wrongful death claim.
- Tenacity: Each and every lawyer that works for our firm comes from a background of hardship. We were not born with “silver spoons in our mouths”. We struggled to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to become lawyers and, because of that, we understand what it means to persevere. While some of our cases resolve fairly quickly, many more have taken years of hard fought litigation to get to the point where someone finally admitted to negligence or wrongdoing despite repeated prior denials of responsibility.
- Personal Attention: From the very first phone call to our office, you will be speaking with an attorney. While we have support staff who assist our lawyers, we pride ourselves on multiple lawyers having personal involvement with each and every person we represent.
If this is the type of law firm you would like to assist you with your own personal injury claim, the accident claims of any of your loved ones or the wrongful death of a spouse or child and the incident occurred anywhere in California, please call us toll free at 866-966-5240 or 310-592-0445.
Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC
Los Angeles personal injury attorneys assisting children injured in pedestrian accidents.
11500 W Olympic Blvd #488
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Palmdale/Lancaster (Antelope Valley), Glendale (serving Burbank and Pasadena), West Covina (Serving the San Gabriel Valley), Ontario CA (serving Riverside/San Bernardino and the Inland Empire), Huntington Beach (serving Orange County, CA) and Chula Vista (serving San Diego)
When should I hire a personal injury attorney is a question many people ask me. After you have been injured in an accident, such as car crash, bike or motorcycle wreck, slip and fall, or any other type or mishap, you may wonder if or when you should consider hiring a personal injury attorney. Your decision should be informed by the answers to several questions. After you have thought through each of them, you’ll have a better idea about whether or not you should retain counsel.
Not all injuries will require the use of a lawyer. If your injury is minor and you have the time to work on the legal and insurance claims on your own, it is possible for you to settle your own claim. It is important, however, that you consider seeking help from an attorney for any injury that has pain that lasts for longer than a few days and that requires medical care. If your injury necessitated hospitalization, surgery, physical therapy, rehabilitation, chiropractic work, cosmetic surgery or orthopedics, you likely need to have your case evaluated by an injury lawyer. When claims involve substantial past and future medical expenses, their value can be significantly increased when you have good legal representation.
If you believe that your injury was caused by someone else’s negligence or that the death of your loved one resulted from another’s actions, it is very important to consult with a personal injury attorney. Proving legal fault involves applying certain standards to the evidence. In order to strengthen your claim, it is important to consult a lawyer as soon as possible so that the important evidence can be gathered and preserved.
Insurance companies employ adjusters and claims representatives in order to reduce their losses. They do so by minimizing the amounts that the companies pay out in injury claims. If you are contacted by an insurance company representative who asks you for recorded statements, medical records, your story, releases and other information, you should tell them that you are contacting an attorney. Insurance adjusters will often try to get you to make statements that are ultimately harmful to your claim, and you should never sign releases without an attorney’s review. The releases insurance companies frequently ask for are blanket authorizations that allow them to dig through your entire medical history. The reason they want to do this is so they can blame your injury on a pre-existing incident. This can result in your claim’s value being substantially reduced.
It is also important for you to understand that the reason adjusters contact you is because their company believes that you likely have a valid claim. They want to get the information that they need in order to help them with their goal of either minimizing your payout or denying it all together. This is true even when you are dealing with your own insurance company in a case involving an uninsured motorist. Don’t fall for their tricks and instead, consult with a personal injury attorney.
Insurance companies will sometimes use dirty tactics to try to avoid paying the claims of injured people. These tactics may include unreasonable delays in your claims process, refusing to pay you even though liability is not in dispute or making unreasonably low offers despite your extensive injuries. A personal injury attorney understands these tactics. Insurance companies that engage in bad-faith negotiations may be liable to you for doing so. A personal injury lawyer may put an end to such tactics and seek the recovery that you should rightfully receive.
If you handle your own case, you will need to have a good understanding of the legal underpinnings of your claim as well as the settlement process. Receiving a fair amount in the settlement may involve savvy negotiation skills combined with knowledge of both the statutory laws and case law. Some injury cases are highly complex. For example, if you were injured by a defective product or by what you believe was medical negligence, you may need the help of experts in order to uncover the evidence that you will need to prove your claim. Auto accidents may require accident reconstruction, witness interviews and a solid understanding of physics. You’ll also need to be able to decipher your own medical records so that you can appropriately value your claim.
If you are not comfortable with doing these things, consulting with a personal injury attorney is in order. An attorney who is experienced with personal injury cases may be better-equipped to value your claim. Your case’s worth will include all of your economic and noneconomic losses. Insurance companies often do not volunteer offers that include money for noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium and others, on their own. An attorney may be able to negotiate the recovery for both your economic losses as well as your more intangible ones.
Even when an accident is clearly the fault of the other party, an insurance company may try to dispute liability. Often, a company will do this to try to make people believe that they don’t have valid claims or that their claim is worth far less than it is. If liability is being disputed, it is vital that you seek help from a personal injury attorney. A lawyer may gather the evidence that you need to prove liability so that you can either settle or head to trial.
It is overwhelming to be injured in an accident, no matter what type it might have been. If you have been seriously injured, it is important for you to consult with a personal injury attorney. An experienced lawyer may analyze your claim and advise you about its likely viability and some idea of case value. Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC has been assisting accident victims and their families for over 20 years. We are always willing to provide a free, initial consultation and we charge no fees or costs until money is recovered. Call us today toll free at 866-966-5240