If you are considering filing a car accident lawsuit, you should be aware that the process can take some time. There are many different steps in the process, and you should be prepared at every stage in order for your case to be a success. In fact, many accident victims make mistakes that hurt their chances of receiving a settlement before their claims have even been filed.
In the days following an auto accident, you can greatly impact your future claim by:
- Delaying medical treatment. The first thing that all victims should do after a car accident is to get medical treatment for their injuries. Not only can emergency treatment save your life, but it will also demonstrate to a court that you were being responsible. If you wait for days or weeks before seeing a doctor, your insurer or the defendant may claim that your injuries were not that serious.
- Refusing legal help. While some personal injury claims can be settled without the help of a lawyer, it is a good idea to get an attorney to look over your case. Victims who have suffered large monetary losses, have permanent disabilities or were uninsured at the time of a car accident often have the best results by hiring an attorney to represent them. Your attorney should conduct a detailed interview with you to determine how the accident happened, your current medical condition, and the treatment you have received, and will review your medical records and billing history to see who may be liable and what your case is worth.
- Assuming your complaint is valid. Not all people who are injured in an accident are eligible for compensation. For instance, Indiana’s comparative fault law prohibits any person from recovering any damages if he or she was more than 50 percent at fault for causing the accident. Victims must also file suit within two years of the accident date, and no compensation will be awarded after this time limit has passed.
Timeline of a Typical Indiana Car Accident Case
Your car accident attorney may recommend that you postpone filing your suit until you are as physically recovered as possible. This is called maximum medical improvement (MMI), and is the point where your injuries are not expected to improve with medical care. At this point, you and your attorney will have a clear picture of what your injury has cost you in the past, and allows you to estimate your future losses more accurately.
Once you have reached MMI, your case will likely progress through the following procedures:
- Demand letter. Some injury claims can be settled before a lawsuit is ever filed. If your attorney believes that the case can be settled, he or she will send a demand for payment to the person at fault (or, more likely, that person’s insurance company). If the demand is not successful, your attorney will file the suit.
- Filing the lawsuit. The filing of the lawsuit is the official beginning of your case. Your attorney will notify the court and your opponent (the defendant) that a personal injury case has been filed and that you are being represented by counsel. The defendant will then have to send an answer to acknowledge the case is proceeding.
- Discovery. Discovery is the process of gathering information and investigating each side’s legal claims and defenses. You will likely have to give a deposition or answer questions posed by the defendant’s attorney under oath. Your attorney should prepare you for the deposition ahead of time and be present at the deposition to object to unfair or irrelevant questions.
- Settlement negotiations. Since settlement is less costly than litigation, insurance companies often choose to settle cases before going to trial. Near the end of discovery, attorneys in the case may meet to determine whether they can agree on a settlement. If no agreement can be reached or your attorney believes you will be awarded more by a jury, your case will go to trial.
- Trial. A personal injury trial can take months or even a year to resolve, for many reasons. Scheduling conflicts between judges and witnesses may lead to rescheduling, and requests for evidence may cause further delays. Your attorney should keep you informed throughout the process, and do his or her best to expedite proceedings.