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Breaking Down the Personal Injury Case Process

Written by Berkowitz

personal injury claim

Personal Injury Claims Handled by Connecticut Attorneys

The vast majority of personal injury claims settle long before their scheduled trial date. However, there is no guarantee that your case will do the same. Every case is different, which is why it is important for a personal injury victim to always prepare for trial – even if the case never makes it there.

By understanding the case process and what steps your injury lawyer goes through to reach a settlement, you can be better prepared for what lies ahead. Naturally, consult with your law firm about the specific steps involved in your case. A good attorney will educate you on the process, and prepare you for upcoming stages.

The Initial Consultation with a Personal Injury Attorney

To initiate the claims process, you will seek out a legal professional. You may meet with one or several personal injury attorneys until you find the one with whom you are most comfortable. Most personal injury lawyers offer a free, no-obligation consultation so that you can discuss your case and get to know them.

Hiring the right lawyer is important. You want an experienced Connecticut attorney who not only specializes in personal injury but one who is serving as your advocate. They should fight for your right to compensation, be aggressive, and have the flexibility in their schedule to devote time to your case.

To make sure you hire the right attorney, here are some questions to ask:

  1. How much of your practice involves personal injury? Asking this question is important because some attorneys do not solely practice personal injury law. Some will practice other areas of the law, which means that they might be outdated on new case law, statute changes, and more. An attorney who handles nothing but personal injury and medical malpractice is best.
  2. How many years have you been handling personal injury cases? You want an attorney with several years of experience specifically in personal injury law. An attorney with 20 years in criminal law, but only one year in personal injury law might not have the expertise to help you get a maximal settlement. Similarly, longer practicing time does not automatically equate to a successful case. So, look for an attorney who has several years under the wings and is well-known and respected in the legal community.
  3. Have you handled cases like mine in the past? Most importantly, you want an attorney who has experience handling your type of case. Every case is different, but a lawyer with experience handling a specific insurance company, working with a trial judge, or handling your type of injury can increase your chances for success.
  4. How many of your cases settle out of court? Yes, most personal injury cases settle out of court, but if an attorney states that 100 percent of his or her cases settle out of court, that is not necessarily a good thing. This could mean that the attorney either looked for quick settlement opportunities or is inexperienced. You want an attorney who goes to trial when necessary but also uses powerful negotiation skills to settle out of court.
  5. What expenses do I have to pay upfront, and what is your fee? While most attorneys advertise that they take your case for free, they could have a fee for their services with case expenses paid upfront. Request all information about payments – including contingency fees – so that you are aware of how much that attorney’s work will cost.

After you have found the ideal attorney, you will sign an agreement with that attorney. The agreement is a contract between you and the attorney or the law firm; it will discuss services provided, fees, and any special clauses.

Reviewing the Statute of Limitations

The next stage is ensuring the statute of limitations has not passed. In Connecticut, negligence-based claims have a two-year statute of limitations. This means that you can only file a claim and be eligible for compensation within two years past the date of the incident.

There is the rule of discovery, however, which might extend the deadline if your case passes it. Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations countdown does not begin until you reasonably discovered your injury. What is “reasonable” is not readily defined in the statute. Instead, it is when a reasonable person would have realized the accident caused the injuries or conditions.

For example, in a medical malpractice claim, you might not realize that a doctor’s negligence caused your injuries for months. In this example, your treating physician diagnosed you, and you were receiving treatments. However, over the course of several months, your condition worsened. You sought a second opinion only to find that the first physician misdiagnosed you and failed to review laboratory tests that indicated the improper diagnosis. At that moment, your statute of limitations time would begin, because you reasonably discovered the error several months later.

Even though you have two years to file your claim, this does not mean you should wait for two years before speaking with an attorney. The more time that passes after an accident, the less evidence your attorney has available to prove your claim. Therefore, it is in your best interest to speak with an attorney immediately after an incident, or when you discover that you are the victim of negligence.

Sending the Demand Letter

Before initiating an official lawsuit, your attorney will send a demand letter to the insurance company. This letter outlines your injury and costs, and your settlement demand. Typically, a demand letter includes the following:

  • The history of the issue, outlining how the insurance company failed to offer a fair settlement; or, the history of the accident and what led up to the demand letter.
  • A specific resolution request, such as a specified settlement amount to be paid by a specific date.
  • The notification that an official lawsuit will be filed if the demand letter is not met.

Sometimes, a letter showing that you have enlisted the services of an attorney is enough to force an insurance company into offering a fair settlement. If, however, your attorney feels that the settlement is inadequate or if the insurer refuses to meet the terms of the demand letter, your attorney may move forward with filing the official complaint.

Filing the Complaint with the Courts

Your attorney will file the petition (i.e., complaint) with the court to start the lawsuit process. Within the complaint, your attorney will include:

  • Name of the plaintiff and name of the defendant(s);
  • The basis for the court to exercise jurisdiction over the case;
  • Your legal claims;
  • Any facts you have that support your claim;
  • An official demand for judgment and monetary compensation.

There is a cost to file a lawsuit with the county. Sometimes, the court will waive the fee if you meet a specific poverty level. After the initial petition is created, your attorney will then have so many days to serve the complaint and summons to the defendant(s) listed in the petition.

Once all defendants are served their summons, they have 30 days to respond to the complaint. If the defendants do not respond, the court would award a default judgment. While this is a rare instance, it has happened in claims before.

Entering the Discovery Phase

The discovery phase is critical for the plaintiff and defense. During this stage, your attorney has access to the defense’s witnesses and evidence. To interview witnesses, each side will most likely conduct their own deposition. Each side can review the documents, exchange evidence, review medical records, and more. This process can last several weeks or months, depending on the amount of evidence. An extensive discovery may postpone your trial date.

Motions Filed with the Court

Several motions might be used to resolve or pause the case. Three of the most common motions filed with the court include:

  1. Motion to Dismiss – The defense attorney might file a motion to dismiss before the discovery phase. They may argue that the court lacks jurisdiction, the service of process was incorrect, or that the plaintiff never stated that he or she was filing a claim.
  2. Motion for Summary Judgment – When there are no facts to dispute the case, an attorney can request a judgment. The motion typically comes after the discovery phase, when either one or both parties discover that there is no need for a trial.
  3. Motion for Default Judgment – If the defendant does not answer the complaint in the required time, your attorney might move for a default judgment against the defendant. The case will then be resolved in your favor.

Depositions: A Question and Answer Session

The deposition process is essentially a question and answers session. The defense lawyer will ask you a series of questions, and you will provide answers. It is important that you are prepared for your deposition. You want to be truthful and upfront with your answers, but you also do not want to supply more information than necessary.

Your attorney will likely inform you about what you can expect, and he or she will be present during the deposition to ensure that no inappropriate or unnecessary questions are included. You should receive a notification about the time and date of your deposition, and any requested documents that you must bring. You might be requested to supply medical records or supplemental information. Here again, your attorney will review the request to ensure that no inappropriate documents or irrelevant information are requested.

Settlement Negotiations

After discovery, both sides will enter negotiations. More often than not, the case will settle before the trial date. During settlement negotiations, the defense may offer a settlement to you based on the evidence found during discovery. Your injury settlement attorney may counter-offer if it is felt that the settlement amount is too small.

Negotiations could go back and forth several times until both sides agree on a settlement amount. At other times, there is no agreement and the case proceeds to trial.

If a settlement is reached, you will drop the lawsuit in exchange for compensation. Then, a contract is formed between you and the defendant.

Speak with an Attorney Regarding Your Personal Injury Case Today

If you were injured due to someone’s negligence or due to a medical error, contact a trusted injury attorney who will fight for your right to compensation.

Contact Berkowitz Hanna today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation. Contact us online to get started.