What You Can Expect to Happen During Your Accident Trial
Okay, let’s talk about what we do for our current clients in all accident cases: initially, after we meet with the clients and discuss the injuries our current clients have, we obtain medical authorizations. The purpose of receiving the medical authorizations is so that we can get the records of our clients and see what their treatment was. Another purpose of the authorizations is to find out how the doctors diagnose our current client’s injuries.
Obtaining client records can be a time-consuming procedure. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as just putting in a phone call and getting the medical records. Mary, my secretary, has to call and call and call the hospitals and emergency room departments in order to get the records. We need to also obtain the medical records from the treating doctor. Again, there is an almost endless series of phone calls our office makes in order to get the proper records for our current clients. But we do get it for them.
Additionally, in auto accidents we help to open up what is called a First Party file. In Pennsylvania your medical bills are paid by your own insurance company regardless of who is at fault.
It does not raise your auto rates in any way. But in order for your medical bills to get paid we must submit the proper forms and records to your insurance company. We provide this service to our current clients at no charge to them. Again, it just another one of the things we do for our current clients as part of our representation in their injury case.
After we have accumulated all the current records, including physical therapy, medical records, hospital records and family doctor records, we sometimes request what is called a Narrative Report from the treating doctor or surgeon. A Narrative Report is a request from the medical specialist to outline what her diagnosis is of the current client’s injuries and what her prognosis is in the future.
After we have obtained the specialist’s medical report, we evaluate any wage loss issues for our clients. If the client has lost wages after their first five days, then 80% of their wages are paid by their auto insurance carrier, provided they have wage loss on their auto coverage. We obtain this for the client at no charge to them.
If we feel that there are some long term problems regarding future employment, we have an economist evaluate our client’s long-term wage loss. We use a forensic economist who can project what our client’s loss of earnings capacity is into the future. This number often becomes a big multiplier because whatever that number is, it is multiplied by the number of years of work life left in our client’s work life career.
After obtaining all of the above, we contact our client and outline what we have in terms of an evaluation of their case. We double check with them to make sure we haven’t missed any medical records or medical bills.
At this point, we are able to send out what is called a Demand Package for our client to the insurance company. A Demand Package is an accumulation of all medical records and bills that our current clients have undergone and went through.It also highlights what our client’s injuries are and our theory of the case.
We end the Demand Package with a request to settle the case for a certain amount of money. Almost always, our Demand for our clients is a lot more than we realistically expect the insurance company to offer. Why? The answer is that there are negotiations involved in the offer and settlement process.
With our client’s permission, we then negotiate with the insurance company for the wrongdoer in an attempt to resolve the case. Never, and I mean never, do we ever accept an offer from the insurance company for our clients without their specific O.K. This process usually involves telephone contacts back and forth between the insurance company and our law firm. It also involves phone calls with our current clients outlining what the status is of the negotiations.
At some point we get to what is called the bottom line. This is the top number that the insurance company has to offer to try to resolve the case prior to the filing of a lawsuit. Experience is a pretty good indicator to us as to what the bottom line is. We communicate that offer to our current clients with our suggestions.
Although the ultimate decision is up to the client whether to accept the offer or not, we give our input concerning what we think the value is, the merits, and the real value of the case.
At that point after we have done our evaluation, our clients tell us how they want to proceed. Any clients can either accept the offer that has been made or decide not to accept the offer. If the top offer from the insurance company is not accepted by our client, then with our client’s permission, we proceed to file a lawsuit on their behalf.
It is important to keep in mind, as we tell all our clients, that just because a lawsuit is filed does not mean the case will go to trial. It is very unusual for a case to be heard by a jury. Rather, there are countless opportunities in the process after we file the lawsuit to try to settle the case. We get a realistic assessment from the clients of what their comfort level is with being in a Courtroom and going through a deposition and a trial.
After we file the lawsuit for the client, the defense hires an attorney to represent the wrongdoer. They then file an answer to our Complaint. The answer either admits or denies each paragraph in the Complaint that we filed for our clients. They may raise something called New Matter. That is additional facts they think are important in evaluating the case. We then answer the New Matter with a Reply on behalf of our clients.
The next thing that usually happens is both sides send out what are called Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents. They are just fancy words for a series of written questions to us outlining what our client’s injuries are and the treatment they have received. Interrogatories also deal with how the accident occurred and what the wage loss or other injuries are for our clients.
After that part of the Discovery is completed, our client is scheduled for a Deposition. A Deposition is just a series of questions under oath in an attorney’s office that goes into greater detail concerning the questions that were posed in the Interrogatories.
I have found, from doing over 2,000 such Depositions, that the four main areas that the other side usually covers for our current clients are as follows:
First, they ask about our current client’s background, where they went to school, where they currently live, who they live with, and whether they had any prior accidents and injuries.
Second, they then ask about the accident itself – all the particulars as to where it happened, how it happened, witnesses to the injury, and where our client went for medical treatment.
Third, they often cover what the client’s medical treatment included. Did our client go by ambulance? Were they admitted to the hospital? When did they follow-up with their family doctor? Were there diagnostic tests, like an MRI or x-rays, done and what were the results? Was surgery recommended? If so, when is the surgery scheduled?
Fourth, how has the injury affected our client’s daily activities? What things could our client do before the accident that they have trouble doing now? What limitations does she have that she didn’t have prior to the accident? Was there a pre-existing condition of the client?
We are with our client throughout this whole process. Obviously we are there for answering the Interrogatories as well as being there for the Deposition of the client.After we have had a chance to depose the other side, in a similar manner, the question then becomes whether the case is Placed At Issue or not for our clients.
Placing the case At Issue tells the Courts we are ready to proceed to trial. At some point, the case will come up on what is called the Trial List for our clients. During that period several times a year, a list comes out of cases to be heard in that particular term. At that point, we have a trial date and can proceed with jury selection.
Again, it is important to keep in mind that all throughout this process, there are attempts being made by both sides to try and settle the case. Another method that we have been using for our current clients is something called Mediation. Mediation involves a person, usually a former judge or an attorney, who has no involvement in the case. They act as an independent evaluator of both sides of the case. They attempt to bang heads together with us and the insurance company and the other attorney to reach a fair settlement of the claim.
As I have indicated already, the vast majority of cases wind up settling prior to going to trial. If the case needs to be heard by trial, we will begin the selection of the jury and outline our theory of the case to the jury. I am very comfortable going to trial for our current clients, especially if I feel they are being honest and their injuries are real and substantial. Even when juries are out, prior to a verdict, there is still an attempt to resolve the case by both sides.
It is also important to keep in mind, as I tell all our clients, that they control the process. They can decide at any point to resolve the case if they wish.