Personal injury law, which attorneys refer to as tort law, allows you to make a claim for compensation when injured in an accident caused by the negligent, careless, reckless, or intentional conduct of another party. State laws control the process for filing a personal injury claim, including setting limits on how long you have from the date of an accident to assert the claim or lose the right to recover damages.
You generally must follow the law of the state in which an accident occurred, so the smart thing is to at least speak with a personal injury attorney to obtain advice and guidance about your claim before attempting to file it on your own. The following are the basic steps to follow to recover damages for personal injuries.
Gather evidence to support the claim
Some of the common causes of personal injuries include the following:
- Motor vehicle accidents.
- Medical malpractice.
- Defective products.
- Premises liability, such as broken sidewalks, inadequate lighting, and failure to maintain property in a safe condition.
- Construction accidents.
- Dog bites.
You must have evidence to support your claim for damages, including proving that the other party was at fault. Police reports, eyewitness statements, and photographs are examples of evidence that can prove how an accident occurred.
It takes more than your saying that you were injured to convince the insurance company for the party who was at fault to settle your claim. You need medical records documenting a diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis, along with bills and other records to prove that you incurred medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, lost earnings and, depending on the extent of the injuries, lost or diminished future earning capacity.
Identify the party or parties that caused you to be injured
Identifying the at-fault party is not as easy as you might assume. For example, if you suffer injuries when your car is struck from behind by a truck, the truck driver may not be the only party responsible for the accident. The company that employed the driver and, if the truck was leased, the leasing company also may be named in your claim for damages.
Notify the at-fault parties of your claim
Don’t assume that the insurance companies for the at-fault parties will contact you after an accident. It is more than likely that they will wait to see if you make the first move toward making a claim for personal injuries.
Once you identify the parties who are responsible for causing the accident, send a letter to each one of them. Keep it brief and provide the date and location of the accident, your contact information, and that you need their insurance company to contact you to discuss your claim for damages.
Negotiating with insurance companies
Insurance companies make money charging premiums for the policies they issue. They lose money when they pay a claim for damages, so do not expect an insurance adjuster to offer to immediately write a check to settle your claim. Most adjusters will initially ask you for additional information about the claim and may ask you to give a written or oral statement.
Be careful what you say when talking to insurance companies about your claim. An insurance adjuster looks for evidence to weaken or defeat your claim, and that evidence includes statements that you make.
A common tactic used by insurance adjusters is to offer a quick settlement. The danger of accepting the offer is that it probably is for much less than the actual value of the claim. The problem confronting most people who do not have a law degree and a background in personal injury law is that they do not know what their claim for damages is worth.
Another tactic is to stall or deny their insured was at fault. This can be effective because the only way to move the claim along would be to file a lawsuit, which can be above the comfort level of most people handling their own claim for damages. It may benefit you to engage the services of a skilled and experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after the accident or incident, and let the lawyer handle the claim on your behalf.