How Do you Start your Personal Injury Case in PA ?
The laws of Pennsylvania ensure that anyone who is injured by the negligent actions or wrongdoing of another may seek compensation through the State Courts. It may seem simple, but filing a successful personal injury claim is a complicated process. The laws that protect residents from personal injuries also set the standards for how a claim is moved through the state. The laws establish time limits, restrict the types of claims that can be made, cap the amounts of money that can be awarded in some cases, and set limits on who can receive financial compensation for injuries caused by someone else. If you or a loved one is dealing with a recent injury, the process may seem daunting. Between the courts, the insurance companies, and the lawyers, there are lots of words used you probably are not familiar with. It often seems like the process of filing a personal injury claim takes a long time, but there are reasons. Understanding how a personal injury claim is handled in Pennsylvania can give you peace of mind and reassure you the right steps are being taken. A successful personal injury claim will follow the steps required by law.
The First Steps
There are literally thousands of ways Philadelphians can be injured which can result in personal injury claims. From car accidents, to slip and fall injuries, to defective medical devices, and even work-related injuries, the types of cases may seem diverse, but all have similarities. In each matter, a person or group of people have suffered physical harm due to the actions of another individual or group. In any case, regardless of the type of injury, the first steps are always the same.
Step 1: Document Everything
The first step to filing a successful personal injury claim is to document everything. You will need to be able to identify exactly how and when an injury happened, who you spoke with, what was said and done, and so on. This can be one of the more challenging steps for many people, as the pain and shock of an injury may make it difficult to focus on collecting the necessary information. In cases of severe injury, like devastating slip and fall wounds, serious car collisions, and other accidents, it may not be possible for the injured person to document much of the scene. In these instances, you or your personal injury attorney will rely on records held by first responders, police, and bystanders, along with any evidence that can be collected at a later time.
Key Things to Document
Whether you plan to hire a lawyer or not, any time an injury happens, you need to make sure to get the following information:
Date, Time, and Location of the Injury
While the basics here are often enough, taking the time to document the weather conditions, obstacles that may have contributed to the accident or existing damage to vehicles or surroundings, and many other details may make a big impact on your case later. No detail is too small.
Nature of the Injury; i.e. slip and fall, car collision, etc.
In many cases, an injured person may believe that an accident is their fault, or that they could have done something to avoid the accident. It’s important to document exactly how an accident happened, and never tell anyone that the accident was your fault, or that you could have done anything. Later, we will discuss comparative negligence, but for now, understand that the less you say, the better your case. Simply document how the injury happened in your own words.
Names and Contact Information of Responsible Persons and Witnesses
Keep record of anyone who helps you, talks to you, or provides any type of promise of responsibility or authority over the situation. This means that if you fall at a store and a manager speaks to you about your injury, you should record that person's information. Try to make notes detailing as much about the conversation as possible. It’s shocking how often little details in the first moments after an accident can play a major role in positive or negative outcomes later. Don’t forget to ask for contact information from witnesses that can corroborate your accident.
Seek Medical Attention
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people contact our office due to an injury but have not seen a doctor. Without proof from a qualified medical professional, there simply is no way to seek damages for personal injury. You should arrange an appointment with your primary care doctor if you are not transported to the emergency room after an accident. Many people worry about how to pay medical bills after an accident. In many cases, a personal injury lawyer can help injured clients with medical care by establishing a lien. A lien allows the injured person to get medical treatment, physical therapy, devices and aids, and medications without payment upfront. These costs are deducted from the final settlement. A good personal injury attorney will not only prevent unnecessary medical treatment, but can also negotiate with doctors and medical professionals to arrange better rates.
Contact an Attorney
It is best to get in touch with an attorney that specializes in personal injury law in Pennsylvania as soon as possible after any accident, even if you are not sure who is responsible for the injury. Too often, injured people believe they can handle the process without representation, only to get a settlement offer that clearly won’t meet their needs. Insurance companies are much more aggressive when people represent themselves, and it is common for people to accept settlements under the assumption that the offer is the best they will get. Don’t wait to contact an attorney. Many personal injury lawyers offer free consultations and will take your case on a contingency. This means you do not pay up front, but rather, lawyer fees are taken out of your settlement once your claim is concluded.
Step 2: Issue a Demand Letter
This is the step where many people get derailed by the process of filing a claim. In order for a claim to be started, the person who you believe is responsible must be notified of the intention to seek damages. This can be done through an informal letter you draft yourself, but is usually handled by your lawyer. Lawyers will have a better grasp of how to arrange the demand letter so the correct information is included and obstacles that may prevent the process from moving forward are not part of the letter. For example, a demand letter that implies the injured person accepts some responsibility is likely to be met with rejected claim notices, forcing the injured person to take additional legal steps. The demand letter should clearly detail how the accident happened and why the injury is the responsibility of the organization or individual receiving the letter. The letter should include the date and time of the accident, the nature of the accident, and the extent of injuries. The letter must be received by the responsible person before the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations
Pennsylvania allows for two years for an injured person to file a claim against the responsible person. Two years sounds like a long time, but trust us on this, two years goes by really quick. The biggest reason to report injuries quickly, however, is to ensure you get the medical help you need right away. Leaving an injury to heal on its own rarely works out and often leads to complications later.
• Delayed Symptom Injuries
Some types of injuries do not show symptoms right away. Types of injuries with delayed symptoms include head injuries, spinal cord damage, and exposure to illnesses or chemicals. Pennsylvania law allows injured people to file claims beyond two years from the date of injury only when the individual was not aware of the injury until the statute of limitations had expired. In those cases, the statute begins from the day the injured person is aware of the illness or injury. Insurance companies often will argue that the injured person was aware of their injury, or should have been, prior to the expiration of limitations. Winning these types of cases is more challenging than a typical personal injury case. An attorney with extensive knowledge of the rules is vital to succeeding in your claims.
Step 3: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Rehabilitation
After a claim has been accepted by the responsible party, you and your attorney will work with insurance claims people to decide what treatment is needed. This process often involves meeting with several doctors including ones hired by the defendant. Your attorney will prevent insurance company doctors from providing a diagnosis that is incomplete, does not address the injuries, or attempts to reduce liability through any of the numerous tricks available in law. The diagnosis and treatment step is often where individuals seeking to settle matters without hiring an attorney get overwhelmed. An attorney will keep your claim on track, making sure that you are only seeing doctors you must see, and preventing the insurance companies from reducing settlement offers because of medical findings that contradict your doctor. Once a treatment plan is established and rehabilitation shows the long-term extent of the injury, your attorney will begin negotiating a settlement with the insurance company. This process typically begins with an offer from the defendant, frequently far below what you will actually need. Many people who handle personal injury claims on their own feel forced into a settlement at this point, often knowing they are not getting the award they need to get their life back to normal. Statistically, injured people will receive final settlements that are three to five times higher when they have representation. Sure, your attorney will take legal fees out of the final settlement, but without an attorney, you stand a good chance of having your claim dismissed or delayed to the point you are unable to pay bills, get medical help, or maintain any type of quality of life. Insurance companies frequently delay settlements specifically in the hope of forcing injured people into a settlement that represents less financial obligation on the responsible person. The easiest way to prevent insurance company trickery is to retain an attorney with a solid reputation for winning. Insurance companies will not be successful in forcing an unfair settlement of injured people when a good lawyer is representing their interests.
Step 4: Settlement
Once an injured person has recovered enough to be able to determine the extent of injuries, a settlement offer will be made by the insurance company. The settlement will take into account the lifestyle the individual had prior to the injury, the long-term costs of the injury, and the impact the injury has on the individuals life, including family life and work. Some claims, like worker’s compensation, do not provide settlement for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, or other types of financial compensation. Having an attorney to help with the settlement negotiations can be vital to making sure your interests are respected. All too often, we talk with people who have handled their claim independently, only to find the “best” offer the insurance company is willing to make is far below the actual needs of the individual.
Types of Settlement Payments
Pennsylvania provides four, general categories of compensation for losses incurred in a personal injury. The categories include:
- Economic damages -such as medical bills
- Non-economic damages -including pain and suffering
- Compensatory damages -covering things like loss of enjoyment of life activities
- Punitive damages -issued to punish particularly negligent parties
Some or all of these types of compensation may be included in your settlement. A good attorney makes sure you get every dollar you are qualified to receive in a settlement. It is important to take a personal injury case seriously. Your health and well-being is irreplaceable, and when an accident happens that should have been avoided, you should not be left with massive medical bills and pain. Our personal injury lawyers will make sure you get the help you need without the stress and worry, while ensuring long-term benefits under the law of Pennsylvania.