You have become a plaintiff — what now?
You have been injured through someone else's actions, and you know you may be entitled to recover financial damages. You have decided to hire a lawyer to represent you and bring a legal claim for these damages. You are now a plaintiff.
The most important thing for you to do now is focus on getting better. That means you need to follow your doctor's advice and keep all of your appointments. If your doctor prescribes physical therapy, tests or other medical procedures, you should follow through with his or her recommendation. If your doctor writes you a prescription for medication to help you heal or manage your pain, you should not delay having it filled at the pharmacy.
Not only will this help you heal, but it also creates a "paper trail" that will be important for your personal injury lawsuit. Your doctors' records often act as the medical testimony in your case and help the lawyer determine the value of your claim. It is vital to be careful about following through with your doctors' recommendations.
Your lawyer may ask you to keep a diary, a calendar of your daily activities or both, focusing on your physical and psychological injuries. This may seem like a chore, but it can be important for your legal case because it helps to prove your claims about your injuries, your pain and how they affect your life. If you sustained serious injuries in the accident, your treatment may continue for months and your healing patterns may change over time. It is important to keep a record of the changes you notice, both positive and negative, starting as soon as possible after the accident. In some cases, even your treating physician may benefit from your notes.
In your diary, you should focus on how you feel and how you are coping with your injuries. Make these entries as often as you feel a change; there is no need to make an entry every day. To begin, write down your name and a start date. On any day after the accident when you notice any changes in how you feel, or experience anything unusual, write it down. Include the date and a brief description of what you are feeling and what you were doing when you felt it. Include any descriptions of things that seem important, such as events that seem to trigger pain.
It is important not to forget the diary as time goes on. At the beginning, you may make daily entries, but as you start to feel better, you may find yourself making entries that are further and further apart. It is absolutely fine to make fewer entries if you have less to say, but it is important not to forget your diary altogether. Unfortunately, some injuries continue to have occasional side effects, even after they seem to have healed. Try not to tuck your diary so far out of sight that you forget about it.
You should use the calendar to record each of your doctor's appointments or other medical care. When you record a diagnostic appointment, be sure to note the type of test, such as an MRI. It is better not use this calendar to record social appointments or chores that are not relevant to your case. However, you should also record the dates and times of appointments with your lawyer, and any deadlines or court dates he or she provides.
You should take your diary and calendar with you both to doctor's appointments and to meetings with your lawyer. They will help your doctor treat you better and keep your lawyer updated on your injuries and how they are healing.
An Idaho personal injury attorney may be able to settle your case, even without the need to file a lawsuit.
Many of our clients are surprised to learn that they might be able to settle their cases before they even file their lawsuit. In fact, a significant percentage of personal injury cases are settled with insurance companies without the need to file a lawsuit. A good Idaho personal injury attorney will work diligently to discover, gather and prepare much of the proof ultimately needed at trial before filing a lawsuit. The personal injury attorney can then put that information together in a "demand package" or "settlement brochure" explaining to the insurance company the fault for the collision and fully explaining the damages incurred by you.
Once your Idaho personal injury attorney has presented your demand, the attorney can then, more times than not, negotiate with insurance companies, both your own and the company or companies for the other parties involved. Settlement is most likely when there is little or no question that the other driver is liable for your injuries, such as when the driver has admitted responsibility, or when he or she got a ticket. It may also happen when liability is still in question, but your injuries are especially severe.
How much is your Idaho personal injury claim worth?
During the pre-litigation process, your personal injury attorney verifies that the liable person or people have insurance coverage, and determines whether your own insurance policy provides coverage for some or all of the injuries incurred in the collision. Your lawyer will also investigate the facts surrounding the accident, reviewing the police report, interviewing the witnesses and inspecting the scene of the accident in order to get the best possible information on how the event occurred and who is at fault. And he or she will also review your current and prior medical records, to prove that your injuries stem from the accident and understand how they relate (if at all) to any preexisting medical conditions you may have had.
Once your lawyer has done all of this, he or she can begin to determine what your legal claim may be worth, financially. This is generally expressed as a range of values (such as $200,000 to $500,000), because of the uncertainty of settlement negotiations and trials. But rest assured that you always have control of whether your case settles.
Your personal injury attorney's role is to advise you and inform you, but you are the one who gets to say yes or no.
When your medical treatment has reached an appropriate point, your lawyer will demand a settlement from the insurance company. This is an effort to get the compensation you are entitled to without a formal lawsuit.
Usually, the insurance company will respond with either an offer to settle or a request for additional information. That additional information may include copies of MRI films, tax returns, records of a physical examination of you by a doctor of your choosing or other information the insurance company feels is important in understanding your case.
Once the insurance company has all of the necessary information, it will be in a position to make a settlement offer. Your Idaho personal injury attorney will notify you of this offer so that you can discuss it and determine whether you find the offer acceptable.
Clients and potential clients frequently tell personal injury attorneys "I am not the suing type." Many people are injured by someone else's wrongful or negligent act, yet they are either afraid of litigating or do not know what it takes to bring a claim.
Essentially, bringing a claim means that you become a plaintiff, and this may seem like a daunting task to many people. However, the simplest tasks assigned to plaintiffs can often have huge rewards.
This was the case for one client who came looking for an attorney nearly two years after his accident. He was severely injured when his van was run off the road by an unknown driver, causing his right arm to be paralyzed. He told his lawyer that he waited so long to get legal help because he assumed there was no one to collect from, since the car that caused the accident was never located. He did, however, keep a diary of his daily life over the two years since his accident. In it, he noted every time a nurse came to his house, every time his mother had to drive him to therapy and even how excruciating the pain was on a daily basis.
After investigating, his lawyer discovered that the client's company van had uninsured motorist insurance that should cover the accident. After a two-week trial, he was awarded a multimillion dollar verdict. This daily diary of his life was very important, because it helped explain to the jury all that he had been through. Even though he did not know at the time that he would eventually become a plaintiff, common sense dictated much of what he did that resulted in such a large recovery.
Following your doctor's recommendations will help you recover as well as possible, and also it will help your legal case. That was underscored by one trial involving a woman who was rear-ended by another driver while she was parked behind a stopped school bus.
After the crash, which was obviously the defendant's fault, the plaintiff was taken to the hospital with complaints of back and neck pain. After taking X-rays and examining the plaintiff, the emergency room doctor instructed the plaintiff to "follow up with your medical doctor if you continue to have problems."
The next day, the plaintiff still had back pain. She called her chiropractor and received treatment for her crash-related injuries. At trial, the defendant argued that the plaintiff did not follow her doctor's orders because she saw a chiropractor rater than a medical doctor.
The jury returned a $24,000 verdict for the plaintiff, but reduced the award to $18,000 because she saw a chiropractor rather than a medical doctor. Fortunately, the judge corrected the jury's decision and awarded the plaintiff the full $24,000. However, if the judge had not done this, the woman's failure to follow the exact recommendation of her doctor would have resulted in a verdict that was $6,000 less than it could have been.
Sometimes, but not often, the parties will agree to mediation before continuing to litigation. The mediation may come at the suggestion of either the insurance adjuster or your own lawyer. Mediation allows both sides to present the relevant facts of the case and the extent of the costs and damages to an independent third party, a mediator, who will try to help the two sides agree on a settlement amount. These independent mediators are often retired judges or people with special court certification as mediators, so they should have experience with the laws and issues that are important in your case.
If no settlement is reached at mediation, the case is free to proceed to litigation. Any failure to settle at mediation will have no effect on your right to continue your case.
If a settlement is reached, either through negotiation or pre-litigation mediation, the insurance company will send a check for you. They will also send a legal document called a release for you (and if necessary, your spouse) to sign. By signing the release, you relieve the insurance company and the party who is liable for your injuries of any further obligations or payments related to the injuries and damages from the accident. You must sign this release in order to collect the settlement.
Your Idaho personal injury attorney should have a trust account, which holds money that has been entrusted to him or her but belongs to clients. Once the settlement funds clear through this trust account, your attorney will prepare a settlement statement or closing statement for your signature. This is another legal document, which sets forth the total amount of the settlement and any deductions for lawyers' fees and costs, or any medical bills or liens that should be paid from the settlement. You will have the opportunity to review this statement, and your signature will authorize the law firm to send you your settlement funds. Once you receive the proceeds from the settlement, your case is successfully concluded.