California personal injury lawsuit process and timeline
How to file a personal injury lawsuit in California
It might surprise you that many people who are injured in an accident due to someone else’s negligence never receive the compensation they deserve because they fail to file a lawsuit. This can largely be attributed to a lack of understanding of the laws surrounding personal injury claims.
Taking the time to learn about the process and timelines of filing a personal injury claim increases your chances of getting compensated. The fact that you’re not at fault for your injuries doesn’t automatically qualify you for damages. You need to follow the proper steps to ensure that you can get compensated accordingly.
Steps to take immediately after an accident
Filing a personal injury claim may not be the 1st thing on your mind after suffering an injury from an accident. But the steps you take immediately following an accident can have a significant impact on your case.
When in doubt, it’s always best to consult an experienced personal injury attorney early on who can help guide you through the process and ensure that you’re meeting all filing deadlines for your case.
1. Get medical help
The 1st thing you should do after an accident is seek medical attention regardless of whether you’re in pain or not. There are 2 main reasons for doing this.
The 1st reason is to determine if you have any injuries so you can begin treatment. Not all injuries show up right away, so it’s vital to have a doctor examine you to discover any injuries that may not be immediately apparent. Internal injuries, in particular, can worsen over time when left untreated.
The 2nd reason for seeking medical attention is to document the injuries so they can be used as evidence in your lawsuit.
2. Collect evidence
The merits of any case are dependent on the quality of the available evidence. A lot of people miss out on full compensation because of the weak evidence they present in court. The best way to mount a strong case is to ensure that you gather as much information as possible about your accident.
Take clear pictures of the scene of the accident and your bodily injuries. Write down everything you can remember before, during and after the accident. If there are any eyewitnesses present, ask them for a statement and write down their contact information as well. Any information you collect could later prove to be crucial in your case.
3. Report the accident to the police
Another priority after any accident should be to report it to the police as soon as possible. It’s important to know that in California, you’re required by law to report any traffic accident to the DMV that results in death, bodily injury or property damage exceeding $1,000 within 10 days of the accident, or you risk losing your driver’s license.
The information you provide can also be used to investigate and strengthen your case. The police will ask you to give an accurate account of all the events leading up to the accident. They will also request your contact information as well as the other party’s.
4. Consider the California statute of limitations
The statute of limitations for most personal injury cases in California is 2 years from the date of the injury or, if the injury wasn’t discovered immediately after the accident, 1 year from the date of discovery. Generally, if you fail to file a case within 2 years, you forfeit your right to compensation.
There are specific, limited situations where the statute of limitations may differ from this 2-year time frame. Your personal injury attorney can give you clear directions regarding the statute of limitations in your particular case.
5. Hire a personal injury attorney
It’s tempting to think that you can file a claim and get compensated without a lawyer. While this is possible, your chances of winning the case and getting compensation are drastically decreased without experienced representation.
Personal injury lawsuits can be complex. It takes an experienced personal injury attorney to successfully negotiate with insurance companies and argue your case in court, if necessary.
Insurance companies are notoriously difficult to deal with without a lawyer. They often try to give you a low-ball offer or delay or deny your compensation the moment they realize there’s no attorney assisting with your case.
6. Send a demand letter
As soon as your attorney is done with preliminary investigations, they’ll send a demand letter to the insurance company of the party responsible for your injuries. The purpose of the letter is to inform the insurance company of your intention to recover damages. The letter will consist of information such as the person liable for your injuries, the extent of damages and your request for compensation.
The defendant or insurance company may choose to respond to the demand letter or ignore it altogether. In case the demand letter is ignored, your personal injury attorney will launch a legal claim for the damages and serve the defendant with the same.
7. Negotiate a settlement
Once the claim has been filed and the defendant has responded, the case will proceed to the discovery phase. During this time, both parties will have the opportunity to analyze the evidence related to the case and attempt to negotiate a settlement out of court whenever possible.
8. Take the case to trial (if necessary)
If the parties fail to settle the matter out of court, the case will proceed to trial. Both the defendant and plaintiff will be given a chance to defend themselves, and the judge will decide the case based on the evidence presented in court.
How long does a personal injury case take?
Many people assume personal injury cases take a long time to complete, but often that is not the case. In general, a personal injury lawsuit timeline can range anywhere from a few months to a couple of years, depending on the complexity of your situation and whether your case goes to trial. Your attorney should be able to provide you with an estimated time frame for your case during your initial consultation.
If you’ve been injured in an accident in California or Texas, the experienced personal injury attorneys at MVP Accident Attorneys are here to help. Our firm has recovered millions of dollars for our clients across California and Texas, and we'd love to devise an individualized plan for you too.
Contact us today for your free, no-obligation consultation. There’s never a fee unless we win your case.
Brett S. Sachs graduated from Michigan State University College of Law with Cum Laude Honors. While attending Michigan State, Brett was awarded for his service in the Michigan State University College of Law Civil Rights Clinic, where he represented prisoners of the Michigan Department of Corrections from injustices brought upon them. Learn more.
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