Suppose you are injured in a car accident or motorcycle accident in Hickory, North Carolina.
In that case, you may have decided that you need to hire a lawyer to help you receive compensation for your losses. Most people who hire a personal injury lawyer have never been involved in a legal case before and have no idea what the process entails. The entire experience can be daunting, as you are not only trying to recover from your injuries, but you are trying to understand what lies on the road ahead regarding your case. We are here to help break down exactly what to expect if you find yourself in a situation where you have hired a personal injury lawyer due to a car accident or motorcycle accident.
- Accident Causes Injury
- Medical Treatment
- Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer
- Lawyer Investigates Claim and Gathers Medical Records
- Demand Settlement from Insurance Company
- Lawsuit is Filed
- Accident Causes Injury
You were driving your car down 2nd St SW heading to Olde Hickory Station for lunch when someone rear-ends you. You immediately feel pain in your neck and back after the crash. You exchange information with the at-fault driver, call the Hickory Police Department, and a police report is made. Your car is not driveable, and your neck and back are in severe pain, so you are taken by ambulance by Catawba County EMS and transported to Frye Regional Medical Center.
2. Medical Treatment
You are treated at Frye Regional Medical Center and discharged with a prescription for pain killers and muscle relaxers and told to follow up if the pain does not subside in a few days. You follow up with a chiropractor and, after three months, are released as the pain has resolved. Be sure to take photographs of any bruising you experienced, as these will be valuable for your case. In addition, do not wait to follow up with a medical provider after you are released from the Emergency Room. Insurance companies often try to deny your claim if you wait too long between discharge from the ER and follow-up treatment.
3. Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer
It is never too soon to consult with a personal injury lawyer after being involved in a car accident or motorcycle accident. You may think you need to wait until you have completed medical treatment before you consult a lawyer, or you may even want to negotiate with the insurance company on your own. But, those who hire a lawyer in a personal injury case receive a 3.5 times larger settlement than those who don’t, according to a study by the Insurance Research Council.
When you meet with a Hickory personal injury lawyer, the lawyer can assess your case and determine whether they can represent you. If the lawyer accepts your case, you will sign a contingency fee contract, which means you do not pay any fees upfront. The lawyer works on your case and earns their fee once the case settles. Make sure you speak to your lawyer about how they calculate fees and the time frame of your specific case.
4. Lawyer Investigates Claim and Gathers Medical Records
Once you have retained your lawyer, they will begin investigating your case.
Your lawyer will interview you about what happened, about your background, any prior accidents or injuries you have suffered from, and any prior medical conditions you may have. They will also want to know where you are receiving your medical treatment for the injuries you suffered from in your case.
Your lawyer will also want photos of the vehicles involved in the crash and pictures of any injuries you sustained. Images help to tell the whole picture about your crash. Your lawyer will request a copy of the police report as well.
Once you have completed your medical treatment, your lawyer will request all medical records and bills. If you have lost wages due to the crash, your lawyer will ask you and your employer to complete a lost wage affidavit to support your lost wages.
5. Demand Settlement from Insurance Company
Once you have completed your medical treatment and your lawyer has obtained the necessary documentation to support your claim, your lawyer will send what’s called a Demand package to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The Demand package will contain the police report, all of your medical records and bills, photographs, and proof of lost wages.
Once the insurance adjuster reviews the Demand package, negotiations can begin. At that point, your lawyer will advise you on any offers that the insurance adjuster makes and will discuss the pros and cons of accepting the offer. Your lawyer will also discuss the cost/benefit analysis of whether it is better to accept the settlement on the table versus filing a lawsuit. Typically, your lawyer’s fee will increase if a lawsuit must be filed, and you will incur additional case expenses. Each case is different, and your lawyer should explain the pros and cons before you decide to settle.
6. Lawsuit Is Filed
If your case cannot be settled because the insurance company is not offering full value to settle the case, the next step would be to file a lawsuit. In North Carolina, you must file a personal injury lawsuit within three years of the injury or accident.
A lawsuit is initiated when your lawyer drafts and files a Complaint in the county where the incident occurred, or where at least one of the defendants resides, or where you reside. The next step is getting a Summons issued to have the Complaint and any corresponding written discovery, such as Interrogatories, Requests for Production, and Request to Admit, served on the defendant. Once the defendant is served, they must file an Answer to the Complaint within 30 days.
A common question asked by clients once a lawsuit has been filed is, how long will this take? In North Carolina, the court system tells us that ideally, from commencing a lawsuit until ultimate resolution, it can take up to one year.
Discovery is the part of litigation where each side investigates the other party’s legal claims and defenses. The North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure allow each party to serve written discovery upon each other. Written discovery consists of:
- Interrogatories (a list of no more than 50 questions to be answered by the party about themselves and the case)
- Requests for Production (questions requesting the party produce documents related to the claim and defenses)
- Requests for Admission (questions requesting the truth of any statements or documents). Your lawyer will assist you in answering the written discovery.
Once written discovery is complete, the parties will move onto oral discovery, i.e., taking depositions. Your lawyer will prepare you for your deposition before it taking place. A deposition is the only chance the defense attorney has to ask you questions about your case before trial. A court reporter is present, and you give an oath to tell the truth. After your deposition has is complete, your attorney will depose the defendant and any witnesses to the accident. After party depositions and lay witness depositions have been taken, your doctors will likely be deposed regarding their care and treatment of you related to the accident. In addition, depending on the case, each side may retain various expert witnesses, who will also be deposed. These expert witnesses can vary from accident reconstructionists to medical experts.
Once all discovery is complete for your case, the parties will set a mediation date. Mediation is mandatory in North Carolina. Mediation is a process in which the parties agree to a mediator (typically an attorney or retired judge) in an effort to settle the case.
Mediations typically occur at the plaintiff’s lawyer’s office in various conference rooms. However, due to COVID, mediations have been successfully held virtually as well. In any format, the goal of mediation is to get the case settled. At mediation, the parties start together in the same room. Each side presents an opening statement about the case, and then the parties break up into separate rooms for negotiations. The mediator goes back and forth between rooms, conveys offers and demands, and attempts to settle the case.
If the parties cannot agree to a settlement at mediation, the final phase of the case is trial. At trial, all evidence gathered through discovery will be presented to a jury to decide what constitutes the full and fair value of the case.
Trial is a risk because twelve jurors ultimately need to agree on a verdict, and you cannot predict what people will decide. Your attorney may conduct focus groups, essentially presenting your case to a group of people in the county where your case will be tried, to better ascertain what a jury may think about liability or damages.
Your lawyer should sit down with you before deciding to go to trial and thoroughly explain the process and cost-benefit analysis before you make that decision.
If you have questions about the timeline of your personal injury case or car accident case in Hickory, NC, please do not hesitate to contact The Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor, P.C. Our experienced attorneys are here to assist you.