In order to answer questions you might have about what to expect in connection with your case, we would like to acquaint you with the general manner of handling injury cases in our office. Of course, each case is unique and handled in its own way, but in general, all injury cases will be treated in the same basic manner. Please feel free to contact our office if you have any questions about your case at any time.
1. Client Questionnaire. When you were interviewed the first time in our office or at your home, we obtained general information about you and your case. If we have failed to obtain information from our Client Questionnaire, please contact us immediately. It is very important that we have a completed Client Questionnaire in your file.
2. Investigation. In order to prepare your case, an investigation of the facts is necessary. In most cases, we will have our investigator contact witnesses, take photographs that might be required, and to otherwise gather the information we need about the accident. It may be necessary to obtain information from your employer as to wage loss or obtain tax returns to support salary loss.
3. Medical Investigation. Letters will be sent to all physicians and hospitals you may have had contact with, notifying them that we are your attorneys and reminding them that they give no information to the insurance company without our permission. We will also mail to them the medical waiver which authorizes them to give us information about your condition that we will need for settlement.
4. Delay in Finishing Your Case. No settlement can be made until the complete detailed investigation has been finished and all medical information has been gathered together, including medical bills, medical reports and other evidence, supporting the claim. In some cases, it is impossible to obtain medical information because the client is still under treatment and the doctor cannot give an opinion about the client's injuries until treatment has been completed.
ONE PRIMARY RULE WE FOLLOW IS THAT NO CASE IS SETTLED UNTIL THE EXACT NATURE OF THE CLIENT'S MEDICAL CONDITION HAS BEEN DETERMINED BY THE CLIENT'S DOCTOR. If we were to settle a case where the doctor cannot give a definite opinion, the client would not receive full value for his or her case. For this reason, from the time the file comes into our office to the time settlement is made, can be anywhere from six months to two years. One of the most difficult requests we make of our clients is patience, since there is always necessary delay in processing the case.
5. Settlement Evaluation. When all of the information has been obtained that is necessary, we will then sit down with you and evaluate your case. Once we have arrived at a settlement figure we feel is fair and reasonable, we will contact the insurance company, furnishing to them the information which we have gathered, along with our demand for settlement of the case for the amount agreed upon. The insurance company generally requires at least 60 days to 90 days from the time they receive our letter before they are in a position to respond. Ordinarily, they do not accept the original demand and further negotiation is required. This negotiation may take anywhere from two to six months. If the case is settled, an insurance company draft will be issued. This draft requires deposit for collection and no immediate money can be disbursed until the funds are received. The banking process of collecting the funds on the insurance company draft deposit takes from one to two weeks.
6. Starting a Lawsuit. In some cases, it is necessary to start a lawsuit immediately before any settlement attempt is made. This is required where the doctor indicates that a long period of treatment may be necessary or where it is necessary to start the lawsuit in order to obtain information necessary for settlement purposes or to preserve evidence which will be lost if a lawsuit is not started.
Where settlement is attempted but we are unable to agree with the insurance company, a lawsuit will be started. No lawsuit will be started without your permission.
7. Filing the Lawsuit. A lawsuit is started by an attorney who prepares a Complaint indicating the time, place and description of the accident, the nature of injuries received, and the amount of money being sought by you. These papers are served on the Defendant, whose fault the accident is. The papers are then sent to the insurance company for the Defendant, who in turn delivers them to their attorneys. The insurance company attorneys then file an Answer, which states the reasons they are not responsible for the accident.
It is important to remember that approximately 95 percent of all cases in this office are settled before trial. Even though a lawsuit may be started, 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 started. In Montgomery County, at the present time, it generally takes 18 to 24 months from the time the case is filed to the time it is put on the trial list. In Chester County, it generally takes 10 to 15 months; and in Berks County, approximately six to 12 months.
8. Discovery Deposition. The law allows the testimony of witnesses to be taken before the trial through what 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 then asked by the other attorney in the presence of a court reporter, who takes down all of the testimony. We will be present with you for any deposition. A deposition is extremely important because the testimony can be used at the trial and because a deposition often determines the amount of settlement to be made in a case. Before any deposition is taken of you, we will sit down and discuss it with you thoroughly.
9. Interrogatories. 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 questions to the Defendant, which require him to answer them under oath. We will undoubtedly receive from the Defendant written questions to be answered by us. If this is done, we will tell you what procedures to follow and will assist you in answering the questions.
10. Medical Examination. The law authorizes the Defendant to require you to go to a doctor of his choice for a medial examination. The doctor will file a report with the attorneys based upon his examination of you, and if there is a trial, will appear at the time of trial to testify on behalf of the Defendant. if the Defendant requires a medical examination of you, we will give you full advice as to what to do and will counsel with you about it.
11. The Trial. Should a trial be necessary, we will, of course, spend considerable time with you preparing you for it. Basically, all trials are conducted in the same manner and they involve the following steps.
Selecting a Jury. In a jury case, the first step is to question prospective jurors to determine whether they can be fair and impartial. The law allows us to excuse a certain amount of jurors without giving any reason for it. These reasons are called pre-emptory challenges. The attorneys each have the right to ask questions and to excuse those jurors they do not wish to serve, using the pre-emptory challenges.
Opening Statement. After selection of the jury, each attorney has the opportunity of telling the jury what the case is about, what proof will be presented and basically of outlining the nature of the controversy for the jury.
Presenting Witnesses. The Plaintiff calls his witness first and presents his case through witnesses and exhibits. The Defendant is given the right to question all witnesses when the Plaintiff has finished asking them questions through a process called cross-examination. When the Plaintiff has finished presenting his witnesses, the Defendant is then given the opportunity of calling Defendant's witnesses, and the Plaintiff has the right of cross-examination of those witnesses.
Argument. After testimony has concluded, the Plaintiff may argue on behalf of his client's case to the jury. The Defendant is then given the right to argue on behalf of his client, and the Plaintiff is given one more argument before the Defendant has finished.
Instructions. After closing arguments, the Judge will tell the jury what the law provides and instruct the jury as to the law.
12. Fees and Costs. As your attorney, we will advance the money necessary for the investigation. These costs may include the cost of the investigator, the filing fee for the complaint, the service fee, the cost of taking photographs, the cost for engineering diagrams in certain cases, and other similar costs which are necessary for the full preparation of your case. We will look to you for reimbursement.
13. Tax Consequences. Any recovery, whether by verdict or by settlement in a personal injury, is income tax free to you. However, you should check with your accountant regarding the tax consequences of your particular case before filing a tax return.
14. Keeping You Informed. We cannot call you on the telephone every week or so to give you a report on your case. We do, however, send you copies of pertinent letters or documents which we send out or which are received by us. Through this means, you will have the same information which we have. Even though the papers or copies of letters discuss court appearances, you need not appear in court unless you receive a letter from us instructing you to be there. When something happens with regard to your case, we will advise you immediately. If you have a question or need some advice or are concerned about your case, do not hesitate to call our office and talk either with me or the personal injury legal assistant who is responsible for your case.
15. Client Medical Status. At the beginning of each month, we would like you to forward to this office information concerning your present medical condition and how you have been getting along. This is our means of keeping track of your progress; and consequently, it should be forwarded to us each and every month. It will be very valuable if the case has to be tried.
16. Amount of Settlement. It is impossible for us to tell you how much money, if any, you will receive in connection with your case. As your attorney, we feel it is our primary duty to obtain for you the amount of money which will fairly and justly compensate you for your injuries. We will not be in a position to discuss a settlement figure until we have gathered all of the information we need for such an evaluation.
17. Confidential Information. As your lawyer, we must have all the facts in order to represent you properly. Any information given to us by you is strictly confidential and will not be disclosed without your permission.
Return to the Injury Guide