Generally, a personal injury lawsuit timeline begins the moment the injury takes place, whether that’s a car accident, a slip on the ice in the grocery store parking lot, a construction accident, or any injury you suffer because of someone else’s negligence. Obviously, you have no control over when that event occurs and the clock starts ticking. However, the decisions you make from that moment forward can impact your ability to recover damages for your injury.
1. Get Medical Care: Seeking immediate medical attention is important for both your health and your personal injury claim. Not all injuries are immediately obvious, especially since you may be in shock right after the accident or one serious injury may command all of your attention. Leave it to the medical professionals to assess the extent of your injuries.
2. Document the Incident: Memory can be unreliable, particularly in the wake of a trauma. While you may feel like you’ll remember every detail of that terrible moment, chances are good that you will not. Certain details will stand out while others fade, and timelines can easily become confused. If you are able, write down your account of the accident as soon as possible.
3. Contact an Attorney: The earlier in the process you reach out to an attorney, the better able the law firm will be to fully protect your interests. Of course, your recovery takes precedence. Handing off management of your claims to a lawyer early in the process not only gives the attorney better opportunities for gathering evidence and building your case, but also takes some of the pressure off so you can focus on healing.
In most cases, the first thing your personal injury attorney will do is gather information to assess the likely value of your claim and the resources of the responsible party to give you an idea as to what you may be able to expect. From there, the timeline may unfold a bit differently depending on the specifics of your case.
1. Investigation and Assembly of Evidence: Putting together a personal injury case involves the collection of a lot of evidence, from medical records and witness statements to less obvious evidence such as repair records and company policies. This “step” is actually ongoing, as more detailed evidence and evidence in different formats may be required to litigate a personal injury claim than during settlement negotiations.
2. Demand Letter and Settlement Negotiations: In some cases, the attorney will contact the lawyer for the person or company responsible for your injury to discuss settlement before filing a lawsuit. In many cases, particularly smaller personal injury cases where ongoing medical treatment is not required, a settlement may be reached without actually filing suit, saving you time and money.
3. Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer and Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit: As noted above, it isn’t always necessary to file a personal injury suit. In some cases, the attorney will determine that it’s best to skip straight to filing the case. Some possible reasons for that decision could be that you’ve contacted the attorney late in the timeline and the statute of limitations is running out, or that you have complex and ongoing damages that are unlikely to be resolved through negotiations within the limitations period. Where the attorney has started with negotiations, a lawsuit may be filed when negotiations break down, or when the expiration of the statute of limitations approaches.
4. Further Negotiations: In many cases, particularly where the lawsuit was filed because time was running out, negotiations may continue after filing of the claim. If negotiations are successful, the parties enter into a settlement agreement.
5. Trial: If settlement negotiations are not successful, the next step is to proceed with litigation. Depending on the case, your attorney may already have taken some steps toward trial during the negotiation process, such as taking evidence depositions and filing discovery motions. During the trial, your attorney will have to prove all of the elements of a New York personal injury claim: that the defendant had a duty of care, breached that duty, that the breach caused your accident and that you suffered damages as a result. Your lawyer will also have to prove the amount of your damages.
6. Post-Trial: Most personal injury cases end with the jury verdict. If the jury decides in your favor, your attorney and the attorney for the defendant arrange for payment. In some cases—particularly in very large or controversial cases—the defendant may appeal the verdict.
Of course every personal injury case is a bit different, depending on the facts of the case, the extent of the injuries, the willingness of the defendant to take responsibility, the insurance coverage and other factors. However, the timeline above provides a general idea of what you can expect in a personal injury case. Learn more about how these steps are likely to play out in your specific case with a free consultation.