Quick Reference Guide
Handling Your Personal Injury Case
It's good to know in advance what to expect in connection with your personal injury case. Consider this as a quick reference guide as it details some of the terms, the documentation requirements, the settlement criteria and the trial process if things get that far.
The process starts with the Client Questionnaire. When you were interviewed the first time by one of our attorneys, we obtained general information about you and your case. If we have failed to obtain the formal Client Questionnaire, please contact us immediately. It is very important that we have a completed Client Questionnaire in your file.
In order to prepare your case, an investigation of the facts is necessary. In most cases, your accident lawyer will have an investigator contact witnesses, take photographs, and gather the information we need about the accident. It may be necessary to obtain information from your employer as to wage loss and ask for tax returns to support salary loss.
Letters will be sent to all physicians and hospitals involved in your medical needs, notifying them that we are your personal injury attorneys and reminding them not to give information to the insurance company without our permission. We will also provide the medical waiver that authorizes them to give us information on your condition.
DELAY IN FINISHING YOUR CASE
Expect delays. No settlement can be made until the complete, detailed investigation has been finished and all medical information has been collected, including medical bills, medical reports and other evidence, supporting the claim. In some cases, it is impossible to obtain medical information because the client is still under treatment and the doctor cannot give an opinion about the client's injuries until treatment has been completed. From the time the case comes into our office until the time settlement is made can take from six months to two years.
It is important to note that NO CASE IS SETTLED UNTIL THE EXACT NATURE OF THE CLIENT'S MEDICAL CONDITION HAS BEEN DETERMINED BY THE CLIENT'S DOCTOR. If we were to settle a case before the doctor can provide a definite opinion, the client would not receive full value for the case. One of the most difficult requests an accident lawyer makes of his clients is patience.
When all of the necessary information has been obtained, your accident lawyer will sit down with you and evaluate your case. Once we arrive at a settlement figure we believe is fair and reasonable, we will contact the insurance company and provide the information, along with our demand for settlement of the case for the amount agreed upon. Please note that the insurance company generally requires at least 60 to 90 days from the time they receive our settlement request to respond. Ordinarily, they do not accept the original demand and further negotiation is required. This negotiation may take anywhere from two to six months. If the case is settled, an insurance company draft will be issued. This draft requires deposit for collection and no immediate money is disbursed until the funds are received. The collection of funds and the banking process takes from one to two weeks.
STARTING A LAWSUIT
In some cases it is necessary to start a lawsuit immediately, before any settlement attempt is made. This is required in cases where the doctor indicates that a long period of treatment may be necessary, or where it is necessary to start the lawsuit in order to obtain information necessary for settlement, or to preserve evidence which will be lost if a lawsuit is not started. We may also choose to initiate a lawsuit when settlement is attempted but we are unable to agree with the insurance company. No lawsuit will be started without your permission.
FILING THE LAWSUIT
A lawsuit is started by a personal injury attorney who prepares a Complaint indicating the time, place and description of the accident, the nature of injuries, and the amount of money being sought. These papers are served on the Defendant, who is at fault. The papers are then sent to the insurance company for the Defendant, who in turn delivers them to their attorneys. The insurance company attorneys then file an Answer, that states the reasons they are not responsible for the accident.
It is important to remember that approximately 95 percent of all cases in this office are settled before trial. Even though a lawsuit may be started, settlement is still very probable. From the time the lawsuit is filed to the time of actual trial depends upon the county where the lawsuit is started. In Montgomery County, it generally takes 18 to 24 months from the time the case is filed to the time it is put on the trial list. In Chester County, it generally takes 10 to 15 months; and in Berks County, approximately six to 12 months.
The law allows the testimony of witnesses to be taken before the trial through what is called a discovery deposition. In this situation, you or the Defendant or some other witness is sworn to tell the truth, and questions are asked by the other attorney. This is done in the presence of a court reporter, who takes down all of the testimony. Your accident lawyer will be with you for any deposition. A deposition is extremely important because the testimony can be used at the trial, and because a deposition often determines the amount of settlement to be made. Before any deposition, we will sit down and discuss your case and the process with you thoroughly.
Once a lawsuit is started, written questions may be submitted to the parties. These questions must be answered in writing within a period of time provided by law. We will send written questions to the Defendant, which are required to be answered under oath. We will undoubtedly receive written questions from the Defendant to be answered by us. Be assured that we will assist you in answering the questions.
The law authorizes the Defendant to require you to go to a doctor of his/her choice for a medial examination. The doctor will file a report with the attorneys based upon his examination. If there is a trial, the doctor will testify on behalf of the Defendant. If the Defendant requires a medical examination of you, we will advise you on how to proceed.
Should a trial be necessary, we will spend considerable time preparing you. Basically, all trials are conducted in the same manner and involve the following steps:
- Selecting a Jury. In a jury case, the first step is to question prospective jurors to determine whether they can be fair and impartial. The law allows us to excuse a certain number of jurors without giving any justification. These are called preemptory challenges. The attorneys each have the right to ask questions and to excuse those jurors they do not wish to serve, using these preemptory challenges.
- Opening Statement. After selection of the jury, each attorney has the opportunity to tell the jury about the case, the proof to be presented, and outline the nature of the controversy.
- Presenting Witnesses. The Plaintiff calls his witness first and presents his case through witnesses and exhibits. The Defendant is given the right to question all witnesses when the Plaintiff has finished by asking questions through a process called cross-examination. When the Plaintiff has finished presenting his witnesses, the Defendant is then given the opportunity of calling Defendant's witnesses, and the Plaintiff has the right of cross-examination of those witnesses.
- Argument. After testimony concludes, the Plaintiff may argue on behalf of his client's case to the jury. The Defendant is given the right to argue on behalf of his client. The Plaintiff is then given one more argument before the Defendant has finished.
- Instructions. After closing arguments, the Judge will tell the jury what the law provides and instruct the jury as to the law.
FEES AND COSTS
As your personal injury attorney, we will advance the money necessary for the investigation. These costs may include the cost of the investigator, the filing fee for the complaint, the service fee, the cost of taking photographs, the cost for engineering diagrams in certain cases, and other similar fees that are necessary for the full preparation of your case. We will look to you for reimbursement.
Any recovery, whether by verdict or by settlement in a personal injury, is income tax free to you. However, you should check with your accountant regarding the tax consequences of your particular case before filing a tax return.
KEEPING YOU INFORMED
We cannot call you every week to report on your case. We do, however, send you copies of pertinent letters or documents that are sent out or received by us on your behalf. You will have the same information we have. Even though the papers or letters may reference court appearances, you need not appear in court unless you receive notification from us instructing you to be there. When something happens with regard to your case, you will be advised immediately. If you have a question or need advice or are concerned about your case, do not hesitate to call our office and talk with the personal injury lawyer or legal assistant responsible for your case.
CLIENT MEDICAL STATUS
At the beginning of each month we will ask that you provide us with information concerning your present medical condition and how you are getting along. This is our means of keeping track of your progress. It will be very valuable if the case has to be tried.
AMOUNT OF SETTLEMENT
It is impossible for us to tell you how much money, if any, you will receive in connection with your case. As your attorney, we feel it is our primary duty to obtain the amount of money that will fairly and justly compensate you for your injuries. We will not be in a position to discuss a settlement figure until we have gathered all the information we need for such an evaluation.
As your lawyer, we must have all the facts in order to represent you properly. Any information given to us by you is strictly confidential and will not be disclosed without your permission.