This guide outlines the basics of what to expect when you hire a lawyer.
Pre-filing Negotiation to Settle a Case
In many cases, we are able to achieve successful results by negotiating with the other party*s insurance company and without filing a complaint with the court. That process begins with our office (with some help from you) obtaining the evidence we need for your claim. That evidence may include police reports, 911 call audio, medical records and bills, ledgers of payment from insurance companies involved, and many other documents.
Once we have the required information, we generally prepare a *demand package,* which is a letter with documents enclosed. The demand package is the starting point for negotiations. We say in the letter that our client is willing to settle the case for a specific amount. The insurance company will sometimes respond with a new offer of a lesser amount and negotiations with continue. In other situations, the insurance company may respond with a statement that they don*t consider their insured person or company to liable and that they are not offering anything to resolve the case.
In situations where we are not able to reach a settlement agreement with the insurance company, we will need to decide whether it makes sense to file the case in court. Although many cases still settle at some point even after they are filed (and before trial), there are a lot of costs and expenses associated with filing a case.
The Stages of a Case Filed in Court
Most cases filed in court move through the same general stages. First, the attorneys on both sides advocate for the most favorable legal positions they can. This stage involves legal research, motions, and court hearings.
Second, both sides engage in *discovery* of information from the other side. During the discovery stage, parties obtain documents and evidence from each other and inspect things. Also during the discovery stage, parties and witnesses are usually required to answer questions under oath in legal proceedings called depositions. If you need to undergo a deposition, we will work with you closely to make sure you are prepared and comfortable with the process.
In the third stage of a case, the claim is prepared for trial. During this period, the attorneys for both sides usually engage in settlement negotiations. If possible, we try to negotiate a favorable settlement at this stage to avoid the high costs and uncertainties of trial.
The fourth stage of a case is the trial itself. After a trial, there are a few cases that go on to the fifth stage, which is an appeal to a higher court. Please note that some cases encounter difficulties which require that they be dismissed at some stage. In every case, there will be emotional ups and downs. As best you can, it is helpful to keep those highs and lows in perspective and try not to let them influence rational decisions that need to be made in your case.
The Importance of Confidentiality
It is important not to discuss the facts of your claim with anyone else. Anything you say could be misunderstood and used against you later. Please do not email anyone else about the incident, your claim, your health, or your medical condition. Please do not permanently delete any emails so that they cannot be retrieved later (because you may be required to produce copies of emails during litigation). You should not post anything about the incident, your health, or your claim on the internet, and specifically not on Facebook or any other internet social networking site. Even if you mark your page as *private,* the other side may be able to obtain the contents through a subpoena or a court order.
Follow Medical Advice
Your doctors know best. Follow through on all of your medical appointments. Failure to meet appointments or to follow sound medical advice can jeopardize your claim. This is also true with prescriptions. If you do not fill or take drugs prescribed by your medical provider, it may hamper your recovery or be interpreted by the other side*s insurance company and lawyers that your symptoms were not severe enough to warrant prescription medications. If you choose not to take medication due to side effects, be sure to tell your health care providers. Please keep us informed if there is any change in your health, or if you see or are referred to any other health care providers.
Be aware that anything you say to your health care provider may be written down, and those notes will be obtained by the other side*s insurance company or lawyer. Therefore, it is especially important that you communicate accurately and clearly with your doctors and other medical providers. Casual, unqualified comments such as *I*m improving* or *feeling fine* may later be misinterpreted and used against you in court to claim that your injuries are minor or have resolved.
Document Your Injuries Through Treatment
When meeting with your health care providers, be sure to point out in detail all your injuries and symptoms, not just the ones giving you the most problems on that day. It will be helpful to your medical provider for you to give examples of your activity restrictions and limitations. The other side*s insurance company will consider only those injuries and symptoms that are documented. A lapse or delay in medical treatment may be misconstrued as an improvement of your injuries.
When you are released to return to work, and when you are performing your normal work but if you have pain, difficulty, or limitations, be sure to convey to your medical provider the symptoms you are experiencing and how that affects your ability to do your normal work. You should also make sure your medical provider knows what effect your injuries have had on your enjoyment of life. For example, if you are limited in hobbies or activities you enjoyed before your injury, explain to your medical provider your inability to enjoy your usual pastimes.
It is often helpful to make thorough notes of symptoms before meeting with you medical provider. Bring the notes with you to your appointments so the provider can document your injuries and symptoms, which will be important evidence in your case. Avoid talking to your doctors about lawyers, lawsuits, and insurance claims, however, as that information may end up in your medical chart notes.
You May Be Investigated by the Other Side's Insurance Company
You should be aware that the insurance company or lawyer for the other side may arrange to have you investigated. Their private investigation usually involves reviewing records, computerized data, and social media and, may on some occasions involve secret observations and photographs of you or interviews of people who know you. You should assume that the other side is researching you to find information that could affect your claim. Accordingly, it is important that you tell us the complete truth about your claim and your history, so we can better protect your interests.
There Will Be Claims and Liens Against the Settlement
Please be aware that, if we are able to make a successful recovery on your behalf, there are almost always claims and liens that have to be paid back from the settlement. For example, automobile and health insurance policies and some government programs typically have provisions that allow the insurance company or the agency to be reimbursed for medical benefits they have paid. Also, any unpaid medical bills are typically paid out of any recovery.
Please keep in mind that the heart of our commitment to you is to prosecute a claim if we believe it is appropriate to do so. Although sometimes claims benefit others, such as by prompting improvements in safety practices or designs, the clearest measure of success (when a case is successful) is to obtain a monetary recovery. During the course of working for someone to achieve that goal, we may sometimes voluntarily perform other, closely related services, such as working with insurance companies or government agencies regarding benefits or reimbursement issues. But please keep in mind that those services, when done, are provided on a voluntary basis. Our ability to do them depends in large part on whether we have the time to dedicate to those tasks.
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