Timeline of a Long Island Personal Injury Case
If you are ever injured due to the actions or inactions of another, whether the injuries occurred in a slip-and-fall accident, a car accident, or were the result of a defective product or medical malpractice, it may be a good idea to seek compensation for your damages. When your medical expenses are piling up, and you can’t go to work because of an accident caused by another’s negligence, why should you have to shoulder these financial burdens in addition to your physical suffering?
The personal injury claim process can seem intimidating, and in some instances, the fear of the unknowns that can arise in a personal injury case are enough to deter someone from filing a claim. However, by educating yourself about the process, and by consulting with an experienced New York personal injury attorney, you can ease some of the fears and anxieties that you might have about the process. The following article attempts to explain the personal injury claim process from start to finish. While not every step will be applicable in every case, the article will help explain the general sequence of events that occur in a New York personal injury case.
New York Personal Injury Cases
Table of Contents
1. The Accident Occurs and/or You Are Injured
You can’t really predict an accident or an injury, and it’s not something that many people think will happen to them. However, even if you are aware of any dangers or threats around you, an accident can still occur unexpectedly. When an accident happens, in some instances, you might find that you’re frustrated and stressed, but in the worst-case scenario, you may face permanently debilitating or even fatal injuries.
No matter how shocking or frustrating or annoying an accident and injury might be, it is important to stay calm and collected. While this is easier said than done, in the aftermath of an accident, remaining calm, collected, and focused will help you to document and gather evidence that will be crucial in the event you decide to file a personal injury claim in the future. For example, if you are in a car accident, depending on the circumstances, you should call 911, but you should also obtain information such as names, numbers, license plate numbers, and insurance information from anyone who was involved in or witnessed the accident. In addition, if you have a camera or your phone, it is a good idea to take pictures of the accident scene and any damages. Moreover, you might also want to jot down some notes as soon as possible after the accident. You are more likely to remember more details of the incident immediately after it occurred than a few months later when you might be ready to file a claim.
Not every car accident is the same and not every injury is caused by a car accident, but if you are injured in any other type of accident, you can generally follow these same steps. Just be sure to collect as much information and evidence as possible so that you have what is necessary to establish your case later on.
2. Prioritize Medical Treatment
If you’ve been injured in an accident, you should seek medical attention right away. Even if your injuries are seemingly benign, the bump on your head could be a serious concussion or the bruise on your stomach could be indicative of internal bleeding. Severe and traumatic accidents can leave your body in a state of shock where you might not immediately feel pain, but in actuality, you might have a serious injury. So no matter how minor your injuries are, you should be seen by a health care professional.
By seeking medical treatment as soon as possible after your accident, even when you don’t think you’ve sustained any real injuries, you will have a record that you saw a health care professional and received treatment right away. This record is important as oftentimes insurance companies will think you weren’t really injured if you didn’t seek treatment right after the accident.
3. Consult with an Experienced Long Island Personal Injury Lawyer
Although you might think you should wait to consult with an accident lawyer until after you see what the insurance company offers you, or wait until after you receive a medical diagnosis regarding your injuries, the sooner you speak with an experienced personal injury attorney, the better. Even if you think you don’t need an attorney to resolve your case, it’s always a good idea to take advantage of a free consultation to obtain some advice. A lawyer who regularly handles personal injury cases can give you an idea of what options may be available to you and whether your claim is likely to be successful.
It’s possible that by hiring a personal injury lawyer, you may obtain a settlement that is much greater than what you could have negotiated on your own. In fact, studies have shown that those who hire personal injury lawyers are more likely to receive larger settlements than those who work with the insurance adjuster without an attorney.
Once you decide that an attorney will handle your case, in most instances, personal injury lawyers will take your case on a contingency fee basis. What this means is that they don’t get paid unless and until you obtain a settlement, so oftentimes you don’t have to worry about having a large sum of money upfront to pay for your lawyer.
4. Investigating the Claim and Reviewing Medical Records
If you decide to hire a personal injury lawyer, they will start investigating your claim and reviewing your case. You will likely be asked a series of questions about the accident such as whether you can remember the sequence of events and any details about the accident. In addition, your lawyer will ask you about your background and whether you have any pre- or post-accident medical conditions. You should also be ready to provide information regarding any and all places where you received medical treatment for your injuries.
You might feel overwhelmed by all of the questions, or that your attorney doesn’t need to know the answers to particular questions, but remember, there typically is a purpose behind every question. Be sure to be as honest with your attorney as possible. Let them know whether you’ve been injured in the past, or if you have any large debts. Your attorney needs to be ready to tackle anything that might arise in your case.
After you’ve been interviewed, your lawyer will also begin to collect your medical records and any bills related to your injury. The collection of documents will be thorough, including information on the care providers you saw, what their diagnoses were, their treatment recommendations, and any medications they prescribed. Depending on the extent of your injuries and the medical treatment of those injuries, this process of collecting documents can take some time. However, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you through this process and will make sure you continue to receive the care you need despite your ability to pay.
5. Filing a Claim with the Insurance Company or Demanding a Settlement
In many instances, personal injury claims are settled even before they reach court. This can sometimes be a good thing, but depending on the circumstances, it might not be the best way to proceed. There are large firms that handle a large number of personal injury claims hoping to settle early on in the case for low amounts. These firms can make a lot of money this way. However, an experienced personal injury attorney will always analyze each unique situation and will use the threat of court to obtain larger settlements. This is a significant difference between hiring a personal injury firm with extensive experience dealing with injury matters versus a large firm that just wants to continuously turn out settlements to make some money.
In New York, motor vehicle accident claims are first filed with the at-fault driver’s insurance company before a lawsuit is filed. For injuries that were not caused by car accidents, such as a slip and fall accident, claims are usually filed with the at-fault party’s homeowners or liability insurance carrier.
After you’ve filed a claim with the insurance company, the insurance company will then assign your claim to an adjuster who will investigate your case and try to negotiate a settlement.
Sometimes the at-fault party does not have insurance, or the accident is the type where an insurance company is not involved. In these instances, your lawyer will usually send a demand letter to the at-fault party requesting a settlement for any injuries you sustained as a result of the accident. The letter typically sets forth what your damages are, the compensation that you expect, and why.
If you have been permanently disabled or impaired, your lawyer will likely not settle the case before filing a lawsuit. In addition, a demand letter will usually not be sent until you’ve reached maximum medical improvement or MMI. This means that you are at the end of your medical treatment and you are at a point where you are no longer improving, and no further treatment can aid in your recovery. By waiting until you’ve reached MMI, you are more likely to receive the maximum value of your case. For example, if you didn’t wait until reached MMI and you settled your case, but find out you need surgery a month later, the cost of the surgery would not be covered by your settlement amount. After you settle your case, you can no longer ask for more compensation.
6. Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If a settlement cannot be reached, whether the insurance company or the at-fault party refuses to pay you the value of your case, then it likely is time to file a lawsuit. In New York, you must file a personal injury lawsuit within three years of your injury or accident. However, it is usually a good idea to consult with an attorney well before this deadline.
While lawsuits are not always the best way to proceed with a case, they definitely can motivate insurance companies to respond by putting them under pressure to reach a reasonable settlement. Trials are expensive for all parties involved, particularly when insurance companies are paying for pricey lawyers and discovery. So, in many instances, it is usually cheaper for an insurance company to settle the case and increase their offer rather than to proceed to trial.
When filing a lawsuit, a complaint prepared by your lawyer on your behalf will be submitted to the court, and the at-fault party will also be served with a copy. The at-fault party will then have a set amount of time to respond to your complaint. If you need to respond to any of the other party’s filings, your attorney will do so for you.
Discovery is the formal process of exchanging evidence and information between the parties so that the parties can thoroughly investigate each other’s claims and defenses. Court rules outline the discovery process that both parties must follow. Both sides submit requests for documents and seek the answers to interrogatories, or questions that they might need. Depositions, or recorded interviews under oath, of the parties and relevant witnesses, also occur at this stage. The testimony from the depositions is helpful in that it ensures that no surprises arise in court.
At the discovery stage, both sides will also retain expert witnesses who will produce reports and testify on their behalf. These experts can include those who specialize in accident reconstruction, or who are extremely knowledgeable about brain or spinal injuries. The at-fault party, or the defense, will also ask you to submit to an independent medical examination or IME. This is a medical evaluation and assessment of your injuries that is performed by a doctor, therapist, chiropractor, psychologist, or other relevant health care provider who is hired by the defense. The provider is not someone who has previously been involved in your care, and there is no doctor/patient relationship between you and the provider. If the other side requests an IME, it is required.
8. Arbitration and/or Mediation
After both sides receive all of the relevant evidence they need through the discovery process, they then try again to reach a settlement. This is also referred to as alternative dispute resolution or ADR. If the attorneys cannot come to an agreement just by talking amongst themselves, then they likely will proceed to mediation. When mediation occurs, the parties and their lawyers meet with an agreed-upon mediator who will help them reach an agreement. Usually, both sides present their case to the mediator before breaking out into separate rooms. At this point, the mediator goes back and forth between the parties until a reasonable settlement can be reached and put into writing. If the parties cannot reach a settlement, then the case will either proceed to trial or the lawyers might decide to go to arbitration.
In arbitration, a hearing occurs that is judged by a neutral third party. The difference between mediation and arbitration is that mediation is not binding, but an arbitration decision is final and binding. Arbitration is similar to a mini court trial. Judges may actually require arbitration instead of an actual court trial if they think that a settlement is within reach.
9. The Trial
If you and the other party cannot reach an agreeable settlement after exhausting all of the previous options, then the case will likely proceed to trial. Depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, a personal injury trial can last hours to weeks to months. During the trial, all of the evidence and information that was collected in the discovery process will be presented by both sides to the jury. In the end, the jury will decide the amount you will be awarded. Any trial can be unpredictable, but when you have a personal injury attorney by your side, who has extensive experience handling complex cases, your chances of obtaining the compensation you need and deserve only increase.
Speak to our Experienced Long Island Personal Injury Lawyers Today
If you have sustained injuries in an accident, whether it was a motor vehicle accident, a slip and fall, or the result of medical malpractice, be sure to contact an experienced New York Personal Injury Attorney right away. At the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP, our skilled attorneys can provide you with dedicated representation in the event you or a loved one are injured by the negligence of another. Call us today at (866) 878-6774 or contact us via our website. We are available 24/7 so get in touch with us at any time.