What should I expect once I have hired an attorney after an accident?
Thank you for your question. After you are involved in an accident and hiring an attorney, there are still a lot of unknowns and questions. What happens next? Here is an overview of what to generally expect during this time.
Sign initial documents. The first step in hiring an attorney is signing a retainer agreement along with other paperwork so your attorneys can start working on your case. This paperwork often includes signing various authorizations that allow your attorneys to get the necessary records to prove your case.
Provide documents and information. In addition to signing the retainer agreement and opening documents, you will need to provide your attorney with the information and documents you have. Documents include a copy of your ID, insurance cards (automobile and health insurance), photos, and other evidence relating to the incident. It is also essential to provide the facts about how and when the incident happened, what injuries and losses you suffered, if you have missed work, or if anyone witnessed the incident. You must also provide your attorney with a complete list of all the doctors and healthcare facilities that treated you. This documentation is necessary not just at the beginning of the case but also crucial to keep attorneys updated as you continue to seek medical treatment. Your attorney can then obtain all medical records and bills.
Attempt to negotiate a pre-litigation settlement. Attorneys will often send the insurance company a settlement demand once they obtain documents. This demand will set forth the basis of your case, explain your injuries and damages, and provide photos, medical records, and bills. The insurance company will review the demand, typically make a counteroffer, and a negotiation process will generally follow.
Filing a Lawsuit. If your attorney cannot negotiate a pre-litigation settlement, they will file a complaint, starting the litigation process. Retaining an attorney as soon as you can after an accident is very important. There is a time limit when you can file a lawsuit called a statute of limitations. This statute of limitations varies depending on the type of case. If you miss the statute of limitations, you will not be able to file a lawsuit.
Once a complaint is filed, your attorney will find and serve the complaint on the defendant, advising them they are being sued. At this point, the defendant will hire an attorney or notify his/her/their insurance company who will represent him/her/them. The insurance company will hire a lawyer if the defendant has not already hired one.
Discovery. This is typically the longest phase of a case and can take months, a year, or years depending on the circumstances of the case. During discovery, each side asks the other side for all the information and evidence they have to support their claim and arguments. Your attorney will likely contact you intermittently with specific questions about the accident, your injuries, status updates, etc. During discovery, both sides will also take depositions. As an injured party or a plaintiff, you will have a deposition, which is a time for you to answer questions by the defense attorney. Another part of discovery in a personal injury case is a physical examination where the defense can have you examined by their medical expert. Also, during this discovery phase, your attorneys will often have various hearings with the other side and the judge to provide updates and reports as to how the case is progressing.
Experts. At any time during the case, your attorneys may hire various experts. Experts are needed to prove different aspects of your case, and the attorneys will hire the necessary experts for your case. Every case is different. You may have to meet with their experts. Or, experts may be involved in part of your case that does not require your involvement.
Mediation. Mediation is a process wherein the parties meet with a neutral third person, a mediator, who will help parties reach a settlement. It is not an adversarial process; typically, each party is in their room or space and never speaks to or sees the other party(s). Working with an independent person who helps to settle your case is an essential step in virtually every case.
Trial. During a trial, both sides have a chance to go to court and present evidence and witnesses that supports their case to a jury. In the end, either a judge or jury come to a verdict. At any time, the matter can settle, which ends the trial. Most personal injury cases settle and do not proceed to trial.
With all of this said, it is critical to be patient and trust your attorney who is there to guide you through the process and make recommendations along the way. The most important thing is to hire a trustworthy and hardworking attorney to handle your effectively and efficiently.
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Christopher B. Dolan is the owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Allison Stone is a managing senior trial attorney in our Los Angeles, CA office. We serve clients throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and California from our offices in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Email questions and topics for future articles to: email@example.com. Each situation is different, and this column does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with an experienced trial attorney to fully understand your rights.