We hear this phrase all the time from our clients: "I'm not the kind of person who sues."
They are hesitant. And we understand why they feel this way. They don't want to be the "bad guy" or seem like they are being greedy.
Popular culture often stereotypes personal injury lawyers and clients as eager to sue over the most trivial of incidences. This stigma sometimes keeps good people who are hurt from getting the legal and financial help they need.
The Difference Between Filing a Personal Injury Claim and Suing
Opening up a case with a personal injury attorney because you have been hurt at work or in a wreck does not mean you are suing the other driver, your work or the insurance company.
Hiring a lawyer and pursuing a personal injury claim means you are requesting full compensation for your unexpected injuries, property damage, and pain and suffering. This is what insurance is for, after all.
But many insurance companies make it difficult for injured victims to get the compensation money they need to cover their medical bills and repair expenses. Their adjusters might try to offer small sums or put obstacles in the way to delay a claim.
The process can also be overwhelming, financially and legally.
Personal injury lawyers are there to smooth out the process and make things as simple as possible for injured victims and their families. We act as a buffer between you and the insurance company to protect your rights during the legal process.
Once you have recovered from your injuries, it is time to start the demand phase of your case. The demand package includes all the expenses that have piled up: medical bills, lost wages, prescription receipts, transportation and parking costs, therapy, and any other out of pocket expenses.
These, along with your medical records, are summarized and sent to the insurance company to support your claim for money damages.
This is where we start negotiating the settlement amount for a case. After going back and forth, both parties work to come to an agreement (with the client's approval), the settlement check is finalized, and the case is closed.
When Suing May Be Your Best Option
When all attempts to settle your claim have failed, filing a lawsuit may be your only viable option. And there are a variety of reasons why litigation may be the only option if you want a financial recovery on your claim. For example:
- The insurance company is denying the defendant caused the wreck or blames you instead.
- There could be conflicting witness statements about what happened in the wreck.
- Property damage to your vehicle may be slight, causing people to question whether or not you were actually hurt.
- You may have to file suit because the statute of limitations is approaching.
- If you are an independent contractor and you are making a large lost wage claim that cannot be verified, the insurance company may force you into litigation to see if you can provide them with enough proof to substantiate your loss.
Litigating a case is not cheap. In addition to the filing fee and the service fee charged by the court, deposition costs and expert witness fees can cost thousands of dollars.
Litigation is also not to be entered into lightly. No one can predict what will happen when a case goes to a jury. This is where it is extremely important for you to rely on the advice and experience of your attorney.
If, after discussing the pros and cons of litigation with your attorney, you decide that you want to litigate your case, do not expect the process to move quickly. It will typically take your attorney two to three weeks to draft the complaint with facts specific to your claim, as well as to craft discovery materials that address the facts in dispute in your case.
Once the complaint (lawsuit) is filed with the court, the sheriff's deputy has to serve the defendant with a copy of it. Once the defendant is served, they have 30 days within which to file their answer to the lawsuit.
When the answer is filed, the discovery phase begins. This typically takes six months in our state and superior courts, unless altered by agreement of the parties or the court.
Hiring a Lawyer ≠ Suing
Filing a lawsuit for a personal injury case is almost always a last resort. In a best-case scenario, you hire an attorney, they help you find medical care and protect your rights, and then negotiate with the insurance company for the compensation you need so you can move forward with your life.
It is also important to note that you should not feel guilty about talking to a lawyer or filing a personal injury claim. The law can be confusing and many times the insurance company is putting their profits ahead of your physical or financial well-being.
A lawyer is an important resource for people to use. They enforce the standards that are in place to take care of people and keep others from taking advantage of them.
And don't forget: You have probably been paying into your insurance policies for a while. You have every right to call upon an insurance company's promise to compensate you in the event of a worst-case scenario.
If you want to know more about the personal injury process and your rights or have questions for our expert legal team about a potential case, contact us online at any time or call (770) 934-8000.