How Do You File a Personal Injury Claim?
If you’ve been injured or harmed as a result of someone else’s negligence, you may have the opportunity to file a personal injury claim in order to offset some of the expenses, pain, and suffering that you’ve been through. But where do you start?
What is a Personal Injury Claim?
When another party – typically an individual or a business – causes you harm, you have a legal right under the American justice system to expect and receive compensation for your injuries.
“A personal injury can affect your health, security, your family and your financial well-being,” Scott M. Brown & Associates explains. “You deserve compensation for damage to your health, damage to your property, lost wages, financial setbacks or medical expenses. If you have been injured in an automobile accident or have been injured as a result of negligence, you deserve full compensation for your losses and suffering.”
Most commonly, compensation for damages is sought through a personal injury claim against the insurance company that represents the negligent party – such as auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, malpractice insurance, or business liability insurance. The insurance company then makes an offer to pay a certain amount based on the damages (which may include medical bills, rehabilitation expenses, out of pocket medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.)
The claims process involves a series of negotiations between the injured and the negligent party. Ideally, a figure is agreed upon and the situation is remediated. But if no solution can be reached, a lawsuit may be brought.
The Proper Steps in Filing a Claim
First things first, you need to get medical treatment immediately after your injury. Not only is this important in terms of helping you heal and recover, but it also establishes a documented paper trail that will validate your claim and provide a starting point for negotiations. Once you’ve done this, you can begin the process.
Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer
While you’re perfectly within your rights to represent yourself and bring a claim against an insurance company, the process is much more complex than it appears. Simple mistakes could cost you thousands of dollars, which is why it’s best to hire a personal injury attorney who has experience dealing with insurance companies.
When hiring, only consider attorneys who operate on a contingency fee arrangement. In other words, you want a lawyer who only gets paid if you recover money. This prevents you from being charged in a situation where you don’t get anything in return. (It also motivates the attorney to work harder on your behalf.)
Gather Information and Evidence
Once you’ve hired your attorney, he or she will begin gathering information about the situation. If you have any evidence of your own – such as pictures, clothing, witness testimonies, or cell phone recordings – hand these over as soon as possible.
Your lawyer will prove especially helpful when it comes to reviewing medical records and coming up with a target settlement amount based on your bills, as well as more subjective elements like pain and suffering and future lost wages.
In some cases, information can be gathered quickly and negotiations quickly ensure. In other situations, it can take months for everything to shake out.
As Nolo.com explains, “A good lawyer will also not make a demand until the plaintiff has reached a point of maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI is when the plaintiff has ended his/her medical treatment and is as recovered as he/she is going to get. This is because, until the plaintiff has reached MMI, the lawyer does not know how much the case is worth.”
Receive First Offer and Negotiate
The first offer you receive will likely be a low-ball offer. Your attorney will advise you on how to proceed, but it’s typically best to listen and hang up. You’ll then come back and offer something closer to the figure you’ve calculated and work back and forth until a reasonable amount is agreed upon.
Accept Settlement or File a Lawsuit
If you reach a claim figure that you’re comfortable with, accept the settlement and get the agreement in writing! If it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen.
In situations where an agreement can’t be reached, you’ll have to pursue with a lawsuit against the insurance company or negligent party.
Take Action as Soon as Possible
You don’t want to delay in filing a personal injury claim. In most states, the statues of limitation are between two and three years (sometimes shorter). If you fail to act in a timely manner, you could lose your right to compensation. With that being said, hire a lawyer as quickly as possible and approach the situation with poise and purpose.