There is no standard timeline for a personal injury case that applies to everyone. Some of the most important variables include whether you want to file a lawsuit and the fact that you can settle your claim at any time during the process.
The following timeline is typical but far from universal.
Special Case: Florida’s No-Fault Car Insurance System
While not every personal injury case arises due to a motor vehicle accident, many do.
Florida is one of about a dozen states that applies a no-fault system to car accidents. If your vehicle is registered in Florida, you must purchase at least $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) insurance and $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL) insurance.
If you suffer a car accident injury, you initially cannot sue the other driver or file a claim against their liability insurance policy. Instead, you must file a claim with your own PIP insurance, regardless of fault. This can be useful after, for example, a hit-and-run accident. You cannot seek non-economic damages, which severely restricts the damages you qualify for.
Exiting Florida’s No-Fault System
You can escape these no-fault restrictions on your car accident compensation if your damages exceed your policy limits or your injuries meet the “serious injury” threshold under Florida law.
Your injuries meet the serious injury threshold if they result in:
- A significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function;
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement;
- A permanent injury; or
- Either death or a reasonable probability of death.
The best way to determine your potential options for compensation is to consult an experienced personal injury attorney after your accident.
Gather Evidence At the Scene of the Accident
The scene of the accident is the best place to gather evidence. If your injuries are not too serious, begin gathering evidence immediately after the accident.
Here are some ideas:
- Photograph anything that might be relevant. Pay special attention to injuries, property damage, identification, and insurance documents. If the accident was a motorcycle accident and you drove the motorcycle involved, Florida law requires you to exchange contact details and insurance information with the other driver.
- Call the police. A police report can help you in settlement negotiations.
- Obtain contact details for any witness you can identify.
- Record the details of the accident while they are still fresh in your memory. Write down anything that might be relevant.
If the police arrive, cooperate with them while they are preparing the accident report.
See a Medical Provider for Treatment As Soon As Possible
Don’t gather evidence at the expense of your medical needs. If you need emergency medical treatment, get it immediately and leave evidence-gathering for later.
Delaying medical treatment can negatively impact your claim. Moreover, medical records are some of the best evidence you can gather because they are accurate and detailed, and your healthcare provider is probably a neutral third party with no bias.
When you experience an accident, adrenaline courses through your body, numbing pain. This “adrenaline rush” can mask symptoms of injury. When deciding whether to seek medical care after an accident, err on the side of caution. If you have suffered an impact, assume an injury even if you feel no pain.
Seek Prompt Legal Advice
Get an Orlando personal injury lawyer involved early in your case so they will have time to familiarize themselves with it. Most Florida personal injury lawyers offer free initial consultations, and they will represent you with no upfront charge if they believe in your claim.
Many injury lawyers will meet you in the hospital if your injuries prevent you from traveling to a law office.
The Preliminary Investigation
Hopefully, you were able to gather at least some evidence at the scene of the accident. The preliminary investigation phase is a continuation of the evidence-gathering process.
To complete it, your lawyer might:
- Interview you in detail
- Interview witnesses to the accident
- Visit the scene of the accident
- Examine and copy your medical records
Even by the end of this phase, you might not have enough evidence to win at trial. That’s okay, because if you do decide to file a lawsuit, you can use the litigation process to gather additional evidence.
The Settlement Demand Package
At this point, you’re ready to begin settlement negotiations, either directly with the at-fault party or (more likely) with the at-fault party’s insurance company.
You commence the negotiation process by having your lawyer send a demand package to the party responsible for paying your claim. The demand package should consist of a carefully-worded demand letter along with supporting evidence.
If you are relying on the at-fault party’s liability insurance policy, you will need to file a third-party insurance claim. Don’t be surprised if the opposing party issues a completely inadequate settlement offer. That is normal, and your lawyer can probably negotiate their way to an acceptable settlement.
File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Florida
You probably plan to settle your claim out of court.
Even so, there are sometimes good reasons to file a lawsuit anyway:
- To pressure the opposing party into an acceptable settlement
- To beat the statute of limitations deadline
- To gain access to the pretrial discovery process
The Pre-Trial Discovery Phase
During the pretrial discovery phase, you can gather evidence from the at-fault party, and they can do the same to you.
You will have access to the following four legal weapons:
- Depositions: Out of court, under-oath testimony from witnesses
- Interrogatories: Written questions that the opposing party answers under oath
- Demands for production: Inspection of physical evidence (a truck’s event data recorder, for example) or copying of documents
- Requests for admissions: A request that the opposing party admit to certain facts (typically facts that are not in contention)
This phase is where evidentiary breakthroughs often occur that strongly favor one side or the other. If it favors you, you can likely demand an immediate settlement of your claim on terms that are favorable to you.
In mediation, a trained third-party mediator helps both parties reach a settlement. Although a mediator cannot force you to settle, you may have to at least participate in mediation prior to trial.
Negotiate a Personal Injury Settlement
If you settle with the opposing party, both sides will sign a settlement agreement. The opposing party will agree to pay a certain amount of money, and you will agree to abandon all future claims arising from the accident that caused your injury.
Ask your lawyer to draft the settlement agreement for you. Expect the opposing party to haggle with your settlement terms.
Go To Trial If Necessary
A trial is the exception, not the rule. At trial, the court will (typically) impanel a jury. Both your lawyer and the opposing party’s lawyer will present evidence, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and present arguments to the jury. Most personal injury trials are over in a day or so.
Should You Hire an Orlando Personal Injury Lawyer For Your Case?
The answer to this question depends heavily on the value of your claim and other factors. The irony of this situation is the fact that you might need a lawyer’s expertise to determine whether you require legal representation. That’s okay because most personal injury lawyers offer free initial consultations.
Due to the incentive structure of the contingency fee system that most personal injury lawyers use, they have no motivation to exaggerate the value of your claim. If they offer to represent you, they almost certainly believe they can win your case. Contact our law offices at Payer Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation or call (407) 648-1510 today.