There are four phases to the personal injury process: (1) treatment; (2) medical records collection; (3) demand & negotiation; and (4) settlement. Understanding where you are in this process will help you to be a wise and successful personal injury claimant.
Settlement offers are a function of your treatment. Of course, don't obtain more treatment than you need, if there is a scratch on your vehicle it is unlikely you need significant treatment. The more serious your injuries, the more treatment you need, the more treatment you receive, the higher your medical bills, and higher the settlement offer. While you are receiving treatment, the attorney may not have significant updates on your case, as there is not much they can do on the claim until you've completed treatment. When treatment is completed, inform your attorney right away.
Medical Records Collection
After you have called and provided a list of all the doctors and medical providers you have seen for your injuries, your attorney will request your medical records. It can take several weeks to obtain the records and bills, depending on the provider. Some providers charge a small sum to produce these records. These costs will be paid for by the attorney initially, but will eventually be deducted from your final settlement as case expenses.
Demand & Negotiation
Your attorney will put together a demand package that includes medical records, treatment notes, lost wages, and a demand letter arguing that you be compensated. Once the demand package has gone out, the other party has three to four weeks to respond with an initial offer. Initial offers may take longer in more complex cases. After the first offer comes in and throughout the negotiation process, your attorney will keep you updated with the offers and also pass along the concerns from the other side. Sometimes the other side makes good points and it is important that your attorney make you aware of these issues so that you have an accurate understanding of the value of your claim. Certain injuries and incidents are worth more than others and a variety of factors can affect the value of your claim. Many victims of injuries feel they deserve more than their claim is actually worth. As long as your attorney is competent and trustworthy, he or she will help you understand the accurate value of your claim.
With a final offer on the table and your medical bills reduced to their final amounts, phase four has begun. At this time you will likely meet with your attorney to discuss settlement. This may come before or after filing a lawsuit. Any settlement will be divided between you, the attorney, and the medical providers. First, the attorney will take the percentage allowed by your contract, along with any expenses that were incurred in the pursuit of your claim. The medical bills are paid next and then you receive the balance of settlement funds. Sometimes it is necessary to file a lawsuit in order to adequately protect your rights. Your attorney may advise you to file a lawsuit when negotiation has come to a halt and the top offer given by the other side is far below the value of your claim.
Now that your case is coming to an end, make sure to follow up with your attorney regarding case expenses. Your attorney should provide you with an accounting of any expenses charged to your case. You are entitled to an itemized statement, with receipts, upon request. It is a good idea to discuss this with your attorney prior to signing any contract. If you bring this up at the beginning, and follow up at the end, you won't be taken advantage of.
Good luck with your claim! A personal injury claim doesn't have to be a headache. The more you know about the process, the better protected you will be.