What happens to my case after I hire my injury lawyer?

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After you hire your Atlanta injury or wrongful death lawyer, you may not know what to expect.  Here is an outline of the typical things your lawyer will do to move your case towards a settlement or trial. 

This is not an exact road map by any means—rather, it is meant to provide you with an idea of the typical items that take place after you hire an Atlanta personal injury attorney. This would apply whether you are bringing a case for injuries or for wrongful death.

  1. Send representation letter to the insurance company. One of the first things your lawyer will do is send a representation letter to the insurance company, letting the company know that they represent you. This letter will also request that the insurance company disclose the limits of insurance coverage available to your claim. It also serves remind the insurance company and its adjuster not to contact you directly; instead, any communications should be made through the attorney only.
  2. Obtain your medical records. In most cases, your attorney will then send out requests for all your medical records regarding your treatment for injuries caused in the accident.  Requests may also be sent to obtain your medical records from before the accident, especially if you had any problems with parts of your body before the accident which were also injured in the accident. Typically, these requests go to all your medical providers, which send invoices to your attorney which must be paid before the records are sent.  Also, there is often significant follow-up with medical providers to ensure that the records are actually sent.
  3. Obtain a copy of the Accident Report and interview the police officer if necessary. If your case involves a motor vehicle accident, including a tractor-trailer, if you have not already obtained a copy of the official accident report, your attorney will request a copy for your file.  Your attorney will also want to interview the police officer if there is a question as to how the collision occurred and who was at fault.
  4. Obtain witness statements. If liability is disputed in a motor vehicle accident case or if your case involves a premises liability claim where it is often very difficult to prove liability and witness statements are needed, as soon as possible your attorney will interview important witnesses to prove liability at trial.  In doing this, your lawyer may very well obtain a recorded statement or have the witness sign an affidavit to help ensure the witness does not change their position later.  If your case is not settled and goes into litigation (a lawsuit is filed), your lawyer may want to take a deposition of the witness to obtain the favorable testimony under oath to guard against the witness changing their mind at trial or to secure the testimony in case the witness becomes unavailable at the time of trial (for example, the witness moves out of the jurisdiction or dies before the trial date).
  5. Obtain photographic and/or video tape evidence. If needed, your attorneys will obtain photographic and/or video tape evidence to help support your claims and potential lawsuit if filed.  Examples of photographs that might be needed include photos of vehicles involved in a motor vehicle accident case, photographs of a defect in a sidewalk, or other defects on a premises which can be helpful in premises liability cases.  Often, if the lawyer is retained early enough after the incident, photographs of personal injuries can also be taken to help make a claim and/or try a case to show the severity of the injuries.  Videotape evidence of these items, as well as others, can also be useful in properly pursuing a personal injury or wrongful death claim and lawsuit.
  6. Interview treating doctors and obtain medical narratives. Depending on the severity and complexity of your injuries, your attorney will want to interview your doctor and possibly obtain a medical narrative from the doctor setting out your diagnosis, your prognosis, and that your injuries were caused by the accident.  The narrative can then be used as part of the demand package that will ultimately be sent to the insurance company.  If, upon interviewing the doctor, your lawyer learns the doctor will not say that your injuries are caused by the accident, your attorney, of course, will not obtain a narrative.  When the demand is sent in this situation, no narrative will be used.  Also, if the doctor does not believe your injuries were caused in the accident, it is likely your attorney will tell you that the case will need to be settled based on the demand because if the case goes into a lawsuit, it will likely be impossible for you and your lawyer to prove your injury claim.
  7. If necessary, retain experts on liability issues and/or damages issues. Again, depending on the complexity of your case regarding both the liability issues and the damages issues, your attorneys may need to hire experts to properly present your case to the insurance company and ultimately the jury.  Accident reconstruction experts are regularly needed in complicated Atlanta road wreck cases involving cars and tractor trailers to prove the liability of the other party or parties.  Engineers, architects, and construction experts are often needed to prove liability when construction defects cause personal injuries and death.  Safety experts are almost always needed to prove liability in violent crime premises liability cases (where someone is assaulted at a commercial location like an apartment complex, movie theater, shopping mall parking lot, etc., because of inadequate security).Experts are also regularly used to prove damages issues.  Medical doctors are often retained to testify about causation and complicated medical conditions and their affect on the client.  Rehabilitation and vocational experts are used to show how catastrophic injuries affect a client’s ability to labor and earn a living.  Economists are often used to show the economic costs of a client’s diminished capacity to earn and the value of the loss of lifetime income of a deceased in a wrongful death case.  This is just a few of the types of experts we regularly retain to prove our clients’ cases.
  8. Prepare and send a settlement demand package to the insurance company. After your attorney has thoroughly investigated your claims and has obtained complete copies of your medical records and bills (assuming you have completed your treatment), obtained necessary medical narratives, expert reports, photographs, witness interviews, etc., it will be time for your attorney to prepare and send a settlement demand to the insurance company.  In the demand, your attorney will explain to the insurance adjuster why the insured is liable for the incident (whether it is an auto accident, tractor trailer accident, slip or trip and fall, assault, etc.), the extent of your injuries, your medical bills, lost wages, and any other relevant facts to prove your damages arising from the incident.  Your attorney will then demand an amount to be paid from the insurance company to settle your claims against the insured.Once received by the insurance company, the adjuster will pay the amount demanded, completely deny the claim, or try to negotiate a settlement less than the demanded amount.  The adjuster may also ask for additional information before making a decision as to how to respond to the demand.  It is unlikely the insurance company will pay the full amount demanded, unless it is a demand for the insurance policy limits of liability coverage and the claim clearly exceeds the amount of the coverage.  In this situation, the insurance company has a duty to settle the claim within the policy limits to protect its insured’s personal assets.
  9. File a lawsuit against, and serve written discovery on, the at-fault party or parties. If your case does not settle after the demand is sent, at some point before the expiration of the statute of limitations, your lawyer will file a lawsuit against the at-fault party or parties (the defendants), seeking to recover your damages caused in the accident.  Along with the lawsuit, your lawyer will serve written discovery to be responded to by the defendants.  Discovery is the way each party obtains information from the other party and third parties.  The written discovery will probably include Interrogatories, Requests for Production Documents, and Requests for Admissions.  Interrogatories are written questions to the defendants seeking personal information and information about the incident at issue.  Requests for Production of Documents seek documentary evidence that the defendants and their attorneys have that is relevant to the incident and your damages.  Requests for Admissions seek to have the defendants admit or deny facts relevant to the incident and your damages to streamline the facts and issues that must be proved if the case is tried.
  10. Depositions of the parties and necessary witnesses will be taken. After the responses to the written discovery are received from the defendants, your lawyer will take the deposition of the defendant and the defendant’s lawyer will take your deposition.  A deposition is where a party or a witness is questioned under oath by the attorneys in the case.  When you give your deposition, you will most likely be in your attorney’s office and your attorney will be with you while the other lawyer or lawyers ask you questions and your answers will be taken down (recorded) by a court reporter.  The depositions of witnesses that are needed to support your case on the issues of liability and damages will also be taken.  Experts will also be deposed at some point before the case is tried.
  11. Legal motions will be filed with the court. Once discovery has been completed (written discovery and depositions of parties and witnesses), if appropriate, legal motions will be filed with the court.  Typically, these will consist mainly of Motions for Summary Judgment.  A Motion for Summary Judgment can be filed by either party and asks the court to dismiss the case or part of the case under Georgia law, assuming there are no genuine sues of material fact.  If the judge grants that motion, the entire case, or a part of the case, is thrown out of court.  If the motion is denied, the case moves toward a jury trial.
  12. Settlement negotiations, sometimes including mediation. Often times, once everything has been done and the case is ready for trial, the parties will take one last stab at trying to negotiate a settlement.  Sometimes the negotiations are informal and take place over the phone, email, fax and snail mail.  Other times the parties will agree to attend mediation to try to get the case settled.  Mediation is where the parties hire a neutral, or mediator, to assist the parties to come to a compromise settlement of the case.  The mediation typically takes place at the mediator’s office to provide for a neutral setting.  The parties and their attorneys attend along with any other individuals needed or wanted by the parties to assist making a settlement decision.  The mediator is neutral and does not represent either party.  However, a good mediator will give his or her honest assessment of the case in both rooms and help the parties be realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.
  13. Your case goes to trial. If all attempts to settle the case fail, the case will go to trial.  In Georgia, typically the case will be decided by a 12 person jury.