Overview of Personal Injury Cases
In order to explain how these cases work and answer questions that you might have about what to expect in connection with your case, I would like to detail the general manner of handling personal injury cases in my office. Of course, each case is unique and handled in its own way but, in general, all injury cases have many basic similarities. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about your case at any time.
Confidential Client Information
While preparing your case, I will assemble information about you. Normally, I need information relating to your injury and losses as a result of the accident. This information will be maintained as confidential unless we determine that it is legally discoverable by the defense or that it will be beneficial to your case to disclose it to the insurance company or defense attorney.
The law requires waiver of the Physician-Patient Privilege in injury cases. Your medical records will be discoverable by the defense lawyers. If you feel that your medical records contain any sensitive information not relevant to this case, please let us know as we may be able to secure a protective order to prevent disclosures of this sensitive material. I may also personally interview your doctors. We may forward forms to you to fill out from time to time which will assist us in keeping track of your treatment, medical expenses, and other information that we need for settlement.
Delay in Concluding Your Case
No settlement can be made until a complete, detailed investigation has been finished and all medical information has been gathered, including medical bills, medical reports, and other evidence supporting your claim. In some cases, it is impossible to obtain the necessary medical information because the client is still under treatment and the doctor cannot give an opinion with respect to the client’s prognosis until treatment is more complete.
When all the necessary information has been obtained, I will sit down with you and evaluate your case. We may then prepare a settlement demand letter, which will be forwarded to the insurance company or the defense attorneys. The insurance company or defense attorneys normally require several weeks to respond. Ordinarily, they do not accept the original demand and further negotiation is required. When the case is settled, the insurance company draft will be issued. This insurance company draft is different from a check, in that checks are presented to a bank and funds are immediately disbursed. An insurance company draft must be presented to a bank, and the bank must then contact the insurance company for authorization to honor the insurance draft. The insurance company will not authorize disbursement on a draft until after it
has received releases and other settlement papers. The company draft deposit itself takes seven to ten days.
Starting a Lawsuit
In many cases, it is necessary to start a lawsuit immediately before any settlement attempt is made. This procedure is followed in the case of certain injuries and with respect to certain insurance companies.
There is a time limit for starting a lawsuit. That time limit is usually three years from the date the injury took place. If a lawsuit is not filed within that time, it can never be brought in the future.
Filing the Lawsuit
A lawsuit is commenced when I prepare a summons and complaint, file those documents with the County Clerk, and a professional process server delivers a copy that is actually served upon the defendant. It is important to remember that approximately 85% of all cases are settled before trial, and that even after a lawsuit is initiated, a settlement is still very probable.
From the time the lawsuit is filed to the time of actual trial depends upon the county where the lawsuit is filed. At the present time, in Kitsap County, it generally takes about one to two years from the time the case is filed to the time it is brought on for trial. If we utilize an arbitration procedure, the time period is often considerably shorter.
The law allows the testimony of witnesses to be taken before trial, and this testimony is called a discovery deposition. In this situation, you or the defendant, or some other witness, is sworn to tell the truth and questions are asked in the presence of a court reporter, who takes down all of the testimony. If the defense counsel requests to take your deposition, I will attend the deposition with you. A deposition is extremely important because the testimony can be used at the time of trial, and because the deposition often determines the amount of settlement to be made in a case. Before any deposition, you will be notified, an appointment will be made with me, and we will sit down and discuss the deposition thoroughly.
Once a lawsuit is started, written questions may be submitted to the parties which are required to be answered in writing within a period of time provided by law. We will send written interrogatories to the defendant, which he/she is required to answer under oath. You will undoubtedly receive interrogatories from the defendant also, which you will be required to answer. If this is done, you will receive instructions from this office regarding the procedure to follow in answering the questions.
The law authorizes the defendant to require you go to a doctor for an independent medical examination. The doctor will then submit a report to the defendant’s attorneys, and we will be provided with a copy of that report. If the defendant requires a medical examination of you, we will give you instructions on what to do at that time.