If you are injured in a car accident, semi truck accident, or some other type of serious accident; your injury claim will begin with the at-fault person’s insurance company. In general, you or your attorney will file a claim with the insurance company (or companies) providing coverage for the person (or persons) you are claiming caused your injuries. Often times other claims will be filed as well, including a claim with your own insurance carrier (see previous posts involving medical payment, uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage).
It is your attorney’s job to keep the insurance companies up to date as to the status of your injuries and the nature of your treatment. In the meantime, it is your job to listen to your doctors and medical treatment providers and to do everything possible to get yourself better. In most cases your attorney will not (should not) begin to negotiate your injury claim until you are either better or have reached maximum medical improvement (i.e. you’re as good as you’re going to get).
During your treatment and after your release from care, your attorney will be gathering all documentation relevant to your injury claim (medical records, bills, lost wage documentation, photographs, etc.). You and your injury lawyer will then discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your claim, any outstanding liens or subrogation interests, as well as expectations regarding settlement. Then you will submit a demand for payment to the opposing party (typically through their insurance company). You have now begun the negotiation process. If you can reach settlement with the insurance company, congratulations, your case is over unless you have additional claims still pending. Your attorney will prepare the proper settlement documents; finalize agreements for payment with any health care providers and/or health insurance companies; and then you will be good to go. If, on the other hand, you are unable to settle your accident injury claim, your lawyer will file a lawsuit on your behalf.
The injury lawsuit is your leverage during negotiations with the insurance company. Without the threat of a lawsuit, you have no leverage when negotiating your injury claim. With the exception of situations involving a breach of contract claim or bankruptcy, injury lawsuits typically involve suing the person who committed the negligent act which caused your injuries. In other words, if Bill Johnson runs a red light and t-bones your car, you sue Bill Johnson, not State Farm orGEICO or whoever the insurance company is that represents Bill Johnson.
Almost all lawyers who practice in the area of personal injury and handle injury claims on a regular basis operate on a contingency fee. A contingency fee is a fee that is dependent on your recovery, and is usually figured based on a percentage of your total recovery. If you get zero, then your lawyer gets zero; if you get a lot, your attorney will most likely get a lot. Contingency fees exist for many reasons, but two of the most important are to give people access to the judicial system who could not otherwise afford it and to keep client and attorney interests aligned.
Injury claims can be extremely frustrating. Recovering from a serious injury such as a back injury, brain injury or joint repair is time consuming and requires extrme patience and hard work. Make sure you sit down and discuss all aspects of your case with your lawyer at the very beginning so you have some idea as to what you should expect in the six to twelve months immediately following your injury claim being opened. Injury claims can take either months or years to resolve. Cases in litigation can last even longer, especially when appeals are involved. It helps to know what to expect from the very beginning, and it is important to be on the same page as the attorney who is representing your interests.
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