The last remnants of winter have finally melted away and all you’re left with is the beautiful springtime weather, shorts, flip flops, and the Festival of the Arts on Calder Plaza. You spent an idyllic day wandering the City, sampling some street food and drinking some delicious craft beer, just soaking in the sights. What could go wrong on a day like today? No need to do extensive research -- just take a look at the local paper and you can see a variety of weird accidents that leave people injured and wondering what to do next. Here’s what you need to know in case you find yourself injured in an accident.
There is No Single Type of Personal Injury Case
Many people don’t realize how many different issues are considered personal injury cases. Personal injury cases include:
The laws for determining fault can vary from category to category so many lawyers choose to specialize in only a few kinds of personal injury law. However, all of the above categories are ultimately resolved through the civil litigation or administrative systems.
First Steps after an Accident
No matter where you are, the first steps after an injury that might lead to a lawsuit are the same: 1) seek medical attention if necessary; 2) file a claim with the applicable insurance company; and 3) document, document, document.
Seeking medical attention should be an obvious first step. Your health and safety are more important than a legal claim and you do not want to make an injury worse by waiting too long to see a doctor. In addition, those medical records may be valuable evidence later on, should they be needed.
Many accidents and injuries are covered by at least one type of insurance. Auto insurance may cover damage to vehicles and some medical expenses, and if you’re the defendant in a lawsuit, may even pay for your legal defense. However, many insurance companies have deadlines on filing a claim, so be sure to file quickly so you don’t miss your chance.
Finally, try to record what happened as thoroughly as you can. Take pictures of your injuries, the place where the accident happened, and anything else that seems relevant. Many people find it helpful to write down their perception of what happened as soon as possible after the incident while the memories are fresh. Get the name and contact information of anyone involved in or witness to the accident. Obtain and save copies of any medical records, bills, receipts, police reports, or correspondence related to the accident. Keep a phone journal and write down the date, time, and substance of each phone call as it happens.
If you think you might sue someone because of an accident or injury, it may be worthwhile to talk to a lawyer early on in the process. There are time limits on when you can bring a suit, and you do not want to miss your opportunity. If you are suing someone else, you are known as the “plaintiff.” If you decide to talk to an attorney, you’ll want to look for plaintiffs’ attorneys who specialize in the type of accident that caused your injury in the Grand Rapids area. These kinds of lawyers handle many cases like yours and are familiar specifics of local law. Many plaintiffs’ attorneys operate on contingency fees, which mean that they will get a percentage of whatever settlement or award you receive. If you don’t win, they don’t get paid.
If you are being sued, you are known in the legal world as the “defendant.” Depending on the type of accident, an insurance company may provide a lawyer for you. Auto insurance will cover auto accidents, homeowners’ insurance covers injuries to your guests and folks on your property, and a business’s general liability insurance may cover some on-the-job accidents.
Early Stages of a Case: Discovery and Settlement Negotiations
Most of a personal injury case takes place before anyone sets foot in a courtroom. First, both the plaintiff and the defendant will gather information about what happened through a process called “ discovery.” This will involve a thorough review of all of the documentation, including police reports, bills, and witness statements.
Once your attorney has enough information, she may offer settlement deals to the defendant and the insurance company (or vice versa). Meanwhile, she should also be keeping an eye on those deadlines, and may begin to file the complaint and other pleadings or pretrial motions to ensure that you don’t lose your chance to be in court.
If no settlement can be reached, the case will go to trial. Civil cases are heard in the Kent County Courthouse. Trials can last a little as a day or as long as a week. Plaintiffs get to decide whether to have a judge or a jury decide their case, and there are a number of factors to consider in doing so, including time, expense, and how one thinks the parties will perform in front of a jury. If the judge or jury rules for the plaintiff, the plaintiff will get a monetary award.
The information above is intended as a general outline of typical personal injury cases in Grand Rapids. However, if you have specific questions or concerns, you may wish to contact a local personal injury attorney to have them addressed appropriately with an eye to your particular circumstances.
Contact a qualified attorney.