You've hired an attorney, what's next?
So, you've decided to hire an attorney to navigate the complexities of your legal matter. What comes next?
At the outset of your legal journey, you'll conduct a thorough and comprehensive interview with your attorney. During this phase, your attorney will seek to gather essential information by asking you detailed questions about various aspects of your case. Expect inquiries about your medical history, employment history, and driving history. It is crucial to provide clear and honest answers during this phase, as the more comprehensive the information you provide, the better equipped your attorney will be to represent you effectively.Informing Insurance Companies: Setting Boundaries
Your attorney will take the initiative to inform the relevant insurance companies that you are now represented by legal counsel. This serves two essential purposes:
Facilitating Communication: It initiates a dialogue between your attorney and the insurance representatives, enabling efficient communication regarding your case.
Protecting Your Privacy: It prevents insurance adjusters from contacting you directly, respecting your right to privacy and preventing them from obtaining information from you that should be kept confidential.
Insurance companies often have an incentive to encourage quick settlements. However, it's vital to understand that accepting a settlement prematurely may result in compensation lower than the actual value of your claim. Once you accept a settlement and receive a check, there is no turning back or reopening your case.
Your attorney should also refrain from pressuring you to settle before your medical treatment is complete. Patience is crucial, and your attorney should be willing to await the resolution of your medical treatment before entering into settlement negotiations.Gathering Evidence: Building Your Case
In addition to notifying insurance companies of your representation, your attorney will commence collecting crucial information and documentation. This may include:
- Property damage photos
- Repair shop estimates
- Traffic collision reports
- Witness information and statements
- Any evidence supporting your claim of innocence in the accident
- Documentation of lost income due to injury
Your attorney will maintain regular contact with you, particularly if you are still undergoing medical care. This ensures that new medical complaints or developments are promptly documented in your case file to prevent crucial information from falling through the cracks.Completion of Medical Treatment: A Critical Milestone
Once your health has stabilized and your medical treatment is concluded, your attorney will work diligently to obtain all necessary medical records and bills. This comprehensive approach ensures that all aspects of your care and associated costs are accounted for in your case. Simultaneously, your attorney will collaborate with you to document any lost income from work, enabling a claim for lost income to be filed.Pre-Lawsuit Settlement Negotiations: The Demand Package
With all the necessary documentation, your attorney will prepare a "Demand Package." This package is a formal presentation sent to the at-fault party's insurance company, requesting a specific amount to settle all your claims. It serves to provide a complete picture of your case, including:
- Details of the accident
- Supporting evidence (property damage estimates, photographs, traffic collision reports, etc.)
- Medical records and bills
- Future medical care requirements
- Documentation of lost income
- The impact of injuries on your life, including pain and suffering
After reviewing your Demand Package, the insurance company will respond with an offer to settle your case. At this point, you'll have three options: accept, negotiate further, or decline the offer. Your attorney will guide you through the pros and cons of each choice, but ultimately, the decision rests with you.Filing a Lawsuit: The Litigation Process
If negotiations fail to yield a fair resolution, you may choose to file a lawsuit. This decision initiates the litigation process. Your attorney will file a Summons and Complaint on your behalf, and your case will enter the court system. The court will impose specific timelines and requirements, depending on the jurisdiction.Discovery Phase: Exchanging Information
One of the early steps in litigation is the discovery phase. Your attorney will engage in a formal process with the opposing party's attorney (defense counsel) to exchange information related to your case. This process involves:
- Form Interrogatories (questions)
- Requests for Production of Documents (evidence requests)
- Notice of Deposition (sworn testimony)
You may also be required to undergo a Defense Medical Examination if you are still experiencing symptoms related to the accident. This examination is conducted by a doctor chosen by the opposing party's insurance company.Arbitration and Mediation: Seeking Resolution
Arbitration or mediation may be scheduled to facilitate settlement. These processes allow the parties involved to reach an agreement before trial. If your case does not settle during arbitration or mediation, a trial date will be set.Trial: The Final Stop
Most courts aim to schedule trials within 16 months of filing a lawsuit. At trial, your attorney will present your case to a jury. You'll provide testimony, witnesses will testify, and experts may be called upon. Once all evidence is presented, the jury will deliberate and provide a verdict, determining the value of your case.
The trial represents the culmination of your legal journey and, barring an appeal marks the end of the line.