The personal injury claims process can be long and complicated. A personal injury claim is often many people's first experience with the civil court system. Understanding the claims process can help you understand what to expect and how your case might be settled as soon as possible. Your first step in filing a personal injury claim generally begins with finding the right Washington personal injury attorney to take your case all the way to a successful resolution.
Finding the Right Personal Injury Attorney in Washington
When looking for the right personal injury attorney in Washington, you should find someone who you feel confident is fighting for you and representing your best interests. Personal injury litigation is different from other types of law, like real estate transactions or criminal defense. You should look for a personal injury attorney with experience successfully handling personal injury cases, like yours.
Many personal injury attorneys offer a free initial consultation so you will have the chance to talk to the lawyer about your case without having to pay anything up front. Your lawyer may offer a contingency plan where you do not have to pay anything until your case is settled.
Investigating the Case
The next step in a personal injury case generally involves reviewing the evidence and investigating the case. This may include:
- Reviewing medical records;
- Reviewing police reports;
- Looking at past accident claims;
- Interviewing witnesses; and
- Getting medical expert opinions.
Investigating the claim will help identify all the possible defendants and who may be at fault for causing the accident. It is important to identify and name all possible parties before filing a claim because there may be multiple individuals or companies who share responsibility in causing the injury.
For example, an injury victim in a truck accident may believe the truck driver caused the accident, however, a truck accident lawsuit may also involve claims against:
- The trucking company;
- Another driver;
- Truck manufacturer;
- Parts manufacturer;
- Truck repair company; or
- County government responsible for road conditions.
Demands and Negotiations
Depending on the type of case, your attorney may want to make a demand and try and settle the case before a lawsuit is filed. This may make more sense with a smaller claim or one that can likely be settled quickly. However, when there is a lot at stake or there are serious injuries involved, the case will not likely be settled before the lawsuit is filed. Ultimately, the decision to settle or not to settle is up to the plaintiff. Your lawyer won't settle the case without your approval.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Filing a personal injury lawsuit begins the court case. The case has to be filed within a certain amount of time, according to the statute of limitations. In Washington State, the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims is 3 years. However, this period could be longer when the plaintiff is a minor. Talk to your lawyer about the time to file in your case.
A personal injury lawsuit is a type of civil court case that begins with filing a “complaint.” The complaint has the general facts of the case and the basis for seeking damages. The complaint is served on the defendants who will have the chance to file a response in the form of an “answer.” After the complaint and answer are filed, the discovery process begins.
Discovery is the process where each side (the plaintiffs and the defendants) exchange information and investigate the case further. This includes exchanging records and other evidence for review. Each side may be served with questions to answers, or “interrogatories.” The attorneys may take depositions of parties to the case and witnesses to gather additional information.
The discovery process can be long and complicated. Each side may also object to certain questions or requests for information. In these cases, the judge on the case may have to make a determination when one party files a discovery motion to compel actions by the other party.
Settlement Talks and Mediation
Most civil lawsuits are settled before they go to trial. Going to trial can be a long and costly process. Additionally, juries can be unpredictable. It can be better for the plaintiff to accept a settlement offer to avoid the unknown outcome of a jury trial.
In some cases, the judge may require the parties to go through mediation or some type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before the case can go to trial. Mediation is led by a third-party mediator who tries to facilitate a mutually agreeable settlement. In a successful mediation, the parties can come to an agreement on how to settle the claim to avoid going to trial.
Going to Trial
If the case cannot be settled, the court will put the case on the docket for trial. A trial can be heard before a jury or before a judge (known as a bench trial). Most personal injury lawsuits are held before a jury; however, in some cases involving complex technology or questions of law, the parties may prefer a bench trial.
After a jury is selected, each side presents their side of the case to the jury. Then evidence may be presented, with each side having a chance to respond to the evidence. Expert witnesses may be called to testify regarding their opinion on the case, with a chance for the other side to respond.
Finally, after presenting all evidence and testimony, the judge will give the jury instructions on the law and have the jury decided the case. After determining liability, negligence, and any other questions of fact, the judge or jury may then decide how much to award the plaintiff.
Filing an Appeal
After the case is decided, each side may have a chance to appeal the court's decision, including challenging the verdict and the award. Filing an appeal has to be done within a certain amount of time. An appeal is generally not a chance to try the whole case all over again but is more limited on what can be challenged. If you have any questions about the appeals process, talk to your Washington personal injury attorney.
Clark County Personal Injury Attorney
The first step to filing a personal injury lawsuit is finding the right lawyer. You need an experienced professional who understands how to deal with the insurance companies to get you the full compensation you are entitled to under Washington personal injury laws. Quinn Posner at Posner Law Office, P.C. will watch out for you and your best interests and fight for your rights. Quinn Posner represents injury victims in Camas, Washougal, and Clark County. Call today for a free injury accident consultation.