Filing, Claim Response Fact-Finding, and Trial: The Three Stages of an Auto Injury Claim
One of the biggest decisions you will have to make following a car accident is how to protect your future. Will you accept the insurance company’s settlement and hope it is enough? Will you wipe out your savings and hope your recovery doesn’t last longer than you can afford? Or do you file a personal injury claim to cover your injury expenses?
Although many accident victims just want to put the entire incident behind them as quickly as possible, the best way to avoid hemorrhaging money down the road is to pursue an injury claim. However, in addition to being somewhat complicated, an injury claim can take some time to complete as it potentially consists of three main processing stages: filing, fact-finding and response, and trial.
Stage One: Filing
In order to pursue a claim, the first thing you must do is file the claim with the insurance company. Although this may seem straightforward, filing an auto accident injury claim involves several intricate steps, many of which can be confusing without the help of an experienced lawyer.
Stage Two: Fact-Finding and Response
Once your claim has been filed, you’ll enter into the second stage, where you’ll need to gather evidence and prepare for the insurance company’s response to your complaint.
The basic responses that you could receive include an admission of fault, a claim denial, a request for more information, or a notice that the defendant will pursue his own claim. An admission will signify that he has accepted your claim terms and will settle. A denial or request for more information signifies that you and your lawyer will need to prepare for a potential trial to prove liability and compensation need.
A notice of a secondary claim could signify one of three things, depending on the type of claim being pursued, but will most likely end in a trial:
- Counterclaim. A counterclaim is when the defendant files a claim against you, often accusing you of another complaint related to the original claim. Essentially, the counterclaim is a lawsuit that the defendant is pursuing against you; in most cases, this is an accusation that you, rather than the defendant, is the party at fault in the car crash. In this situation, proof of liability will determine whose claim will be considered for settlement.
- Cross-claim. A cross-claim is when the defendant identifies another party as a co-defendant in the claim. This happens often with lawsuits that include multiple defendants, such as multiple-vehicle accidents. One defendant can file a cross-claim against another, claiming the other party was more at fault for your personal injuries. The information you and your lawyer gather will come into play in order to determine the percentage of fault per defendant.
- Third-party claim. A third-party claim is when a defendant brings another party into the lawsuit that was not part of the original complaint, and claims this new party is responsible for all or part of your personal injury claim. The original defendant is now called a third-party plaintiff and all current parties are served the third-party complaint. Again, the determination of fault will decide whether you need to continue to pursue the original claim or file a new claim against the cross-claimed defendant.
Stage Three: Trial
Once you have filed your claim and received your response, if you haven’t agreed to a settlement with the defendant(s), you’ll enter the third stage—the trial stage. If your claim gets to trial, this can be the most important part of your claim.
There are six main parts to the trial stage:
- Jury selection. The judge and both parties’ attorneys question a pool of potential jurors and accept or dismiss them until the required number remains.
- Opening statements. The attorneys for each party present their side of the case to the jury. Normally, the plaintiff’s attorney gives his account of the accident and the facts, and then the defense’s attorney is given the chance to present his interpretation of the accident and facts.
- Witness testimony and cross-examination. Witnesses, possibly including the plaintiff and defendants, are called to the stand to submit to questioning from both sides’ attorneys. Physical evidence may also be introduced at this time.
- Closing arguments. The attorneys of both parties give their closing statements which summarize their arguments.
- Jury instruction. The judge gives the jury a set of legal standards for them to apply to the case. At this time, the case is now in the hands of the jury.
- Jury deliberation and verdict. The jurors are removed from the courtroom to review and discuss the details of the case and evidence that was presented. Once they have reached a consensus to have a majority vote of guilty or innocent, they present the verdict to the judge. This verdict includes the final decision of whom the jury finds to be at fault, as well as terms for the settlement.
As you can see, filing an injury claim can be confusing if you don’t have the guidance and experience of a good attorney. Allow us to help direct you through these stages in order to get you the financial assistance your injury debt demands. Remember, you don’t have to settle for less than you need. Contact us today to make sure you’re not taken advantage of during your hour of need.