Hi. I’m John Medler, personal injury lawyer with The Medler Law Firm – Personal Injury & Accident Attorneys. Today I’d like to talk about what happens when you hire an Orange County personal injury lawyer. You’ve just been involved in an accident. You probably never needed to hire a personal injury lawyer before. So you may be curious about what the process is. I’d like to tell you a little bit about that.
What normally happens first is that your lawyer will want you to sign what’s called a ‘retainer agreement.’ That agreement is very simple and just basically says what the lawyer is going to get paid and basically says that the lawyer can act on your behalf. When that’s finished, the lawyer will ask you to fill out what are called ‘medical releases,’ and those releases that you sign allow the lawyer to act on your behalf to get your medical records and your medical bills because both of those will be very important to your personal injury case. And it takes a while for the lawyer to get those medical records and bills. You’d be surprised how long it takes sometimes for hospitals and doctors to get you those medical records and bills. And while your lawyer is doing that function of getting your records and bills, we wait a little bit.
Why do we do that? The reason is that sometimes you may think in the beginning, “Well I’ve just got a herniated disc in my spine,” or something like that, but you may find out down the road months later that you might need spinal surgery. You might not know that now. And if we settled your case too early, we might not get you the compensation for those damages that you deserve. So we wait a little bit until most of your medical treatment is finished. And when that happens, and we’ve got all your medical records, and all your medical bills, and most of your medical treatment is finished, your lawyer will prepare what’s called a ‘demand letter.’
A demand letter sets forth the reasons why you should win and why the insurance adjuster for that defendant who was negligent should pay you a lot of money. And at the end of the letter, the lawyer asks on your behalf for a certain amount in settlement, and you and your lawyer can discuss what amount is appropriate. You get to decide what amount you want to ask for. Keep in mind, you can ask for a zillion dollars if you want to, but if you do, they’re probably not going to accept your demand. So you gotta be somewhat reasonable. So your lawyer will ask for a certain amount to settle your case. Usually, the amount you ask for is higher than the amount you’re willing to take. Just like any negotiation, you start high and then you settle for an amount usually below that.
What happens then is you give the insurance adjuster a period of time, normally 30 days (sometimes it can be 60 days), for the insurance adjuster to evaluate your claim, review your medical records and bills, and decide whether he should sell the case. The insurance adjuster will then call back the attorney and will say one of three things. Either yes, I accept the settlement offer you gave. Number two, I’m not going to settle for anything. Or number three, he’ll propose a settlement number different than and lower than the amount you proposed. If that happens, then your attorney will negotiate back and forth with the adjuster over the next month or so and try and come up with a settlement amount that the insurance adjuster is willing to do and that you are willing to do.
Now keep in mind that your attorney doesn’t make that decision to settle for you. Only you get to decide whether to settle the case. You are the boss in terms of settlement. Now your attorney of course is going to give you advice and say whether he or she thinks that you should settle the case or whether you should deny what the insurance adjusters offering. If you’re able to settle the case, then that’s it. The insurance adjuster gives you your check, your attorney takes his portion, and your case is over. If the insurance adjuster for the defendant, however, just refuses to give you an amount that you think is fair, then what happens next? The lawyer files a lawsuit on your behalf. Normally what happens is the lawyer files the lawsuit, then has to serve the papers on the defendant, and then the defendant hires a lawyer and comes into court. What happens next is a long process that can take well over a year and sometimes two or three years to occur. So if you’re at this point, you may be in for a long haul.
What happens next is that the parties engage in what’s called ‘discovery.’ Discovery is when we learn information about their side and they learn information about our side. That’s the gist. What happens is we ask them to answer written questions under oath and they ask us the same thing. We ask them to produce documents in their possession, they ask us to produce documents, and when all that’s finished, then we proceed to depositions where we take sworn statements in front of a court reporter where we ask them questions and they have to give answers under oath. And they’ll do the same thing for you. They’ll take questions and answers from you under oath. And when those depositions are finished then we talk to the experts (sometimes we need experts in the case), and the experts will then be deposed. When that’s all finished then we go to trial and at the end of the trial we ask a jury to award you an amount that is fair and reasonable to compensate you for the damage that you’ve suffered.
Now you may be asking, “Where in there am I settling the case?” And the answer is, you can settle at any point as long as both sides agree. So as the case proceeds we will be asking the other side to settle and they will either say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and further negotiations will continue. If the case goes to trial, that’s what we do. We’re Orange County trial lawyers, and we’re happy to represent you and trial to try and get you justice from the jury. So no matter where in the process your case settles, or whether your case goes to trial, keep in mind that we’re going to be with you every step of the way.
If you’ve got more questions about the process for after you call your personal injury lawyer, check out our website at www.MedlerLawFirm.com. or call our Orange County personal injury lawyer for a free case review.