What is the Process of Bringing a Personal Injury Claim in California?
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.
The following is a brief outline of how a personal injury court case proceeds:
Step 1: Consult with a California Personal Injury Lawyer Before filing a personal injury lawsuit, it's important to consult with an experienced California personal injury lawyer. The lawyer will evaluate your case, advise you on your legal options, and help you determine whether filing a lawsuit is the best course of action. They will also help you understand the process and what to expect along the way.
Step 2: Investigation and Evaluation of the Case Once you've hired a personal injury lawyer, they will conduct a thorough investigation of your case. This may include gathering evidence, reviewing medical records, interviewing witnesses, and consulting with experts. Based on their evaluation of the case, they will determine the strength of your case and the potential value of your claim.
Step 3: Filing a Complaint If your personal injury lawyer determines that you have a strong case, they will file a complaint on your behalf in the appropriate court. The complaint will outline the details of your case, including the injuries you sustained and the damages you are seeking.
Step 4: Serving the Defendant Once the complaint has been filed, the defendant must be served with a copy of the complaint and a summons. The defendant then has a limited amount of time to respond to the complaint.
Step 5: Discovery Process During the discovery process, both sides will exchange information and evidence related to the case. This may include depositions, interrogatories, requests for documents, and requests for admissions.
Step 6: Mediation or Settlement Negotiations In many personal injury cases, the parties may attempt to reach a settlement through mediation or settlement negotiations. This can save time and money compared to going to trial. Your personal injury lawyer will negotiate on your behalf to obtain the best possible settlement.
Step 7: Trial If a settlement cannot be reached, the case will proceed to trial. At trial, both sides will present evidence and arguments to a judge or jury, who will then determine the outcome of the case.
Step 8: Appeal If either party is unhappy with the outcome of the trial, they may appeal the decision to a higher court.
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.