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The Personal Injury Claims Process

The following is an excerpt from an interview with a Virginia civil litigation attorney who handles personal injury cases.

What is the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim?

It varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the statute of limitations is the idea that there is a certain amou
nt of time within which an injured party can bring a cause of action, or any legal claim, against the at-fault party. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is typically two years for a personal injury action, although there are differences in the specific types of action. The statute of limitations for wrongful death claims, for instance, was recently changed from one year to two in the District of Columbia. There are also different time periods within which you can bring claims against government entities and different types of actions, like medical malpractice versus a slip and fall or an auto accident. There are intricacies that come into play and each jurisdiction has its own time frame within which you can bring a claim. There are several reasons for that. One of the most important reasons is that memories fade, and evidence and witnesses become harder to find. The law ensures that the case is based upon its merits, not upon someone’s inability to find out those answers. The statute of limitations protects a defendant from being prejudiced in their ability to defend a case just because the plaintiff waited for years before bringing it.

What is involved in the personal injury claim process?

The process involves all sorts of things. The plaintiff’s biggest responsibility is to seek medical care and follow the doctor’s orders. It involves getting care for your injuries and working to get better so that you can try to return to your normal life as soon as possible. This can include working with your employer, if you are limited in your ability to work, to either find light-duty work or find another job. In terms of making a claim to the other party for your injuries, that involves documenting your injuries and damages and then turning that into something that can be presented to a claims adjuster or defense attorney as a basis for your claim for damages. Getting an attorney involved is extremely important so that you can make sure that your interests are protected. Seeking medical care soon after you have been injured is also extremely important because of the causation aspect. The longer you wait to seek care, the harder it becomes to show that your injuries were caused by the negligent or wrongful action that caused it. Following the doctor’s orders is the most important thing to do, and also trying to get back to work as soon as possible so that you can mitigate your damages. Every case is different and an attorney will be able to advise their client as to the best course of action.

Why is it important for a personal injury victim to retain legal counsel?

The main reason why someone should retain counsel is to protect their best interests. If an insurance company knows that someone was injured and their insured was at fault, they might try to convince the injured party to agree to a settlement very quickly. They might offer what seems like a lot of money up front, but a lot of times that happens before somebody really knows the full extent of their injuries. As part of any settlement agreement, the injured person will have to sign a release or a waiver promising that they will not pursue any future claims against the at-fault party. That releases the other party from any liability going forward. The person may not realize the full extent of their injuries yet and may need the money so they take the insurance company up on their offer. Then, a few months down the road, they realize they need to have surgery, but they already released the claim. Unfortunately, at that point, there is not a lot that can be done once the at-fault party has been released from a claim.

One of the biggest reasons for a person to hire counsel is to protect their interest and to make sure that a powerful insurance company does not take advantage of them. An attorney will allow the injured person to focus on getting better while the attorney works to protect their rights and to pursue just compensation. For instance, if a person is injured and they have a workers’ compensation claim, some employers don’t have workers ‘ compensation insurance. As an unrepresented party it may be hard to figure out how to make the claim, who to talk to, and how to get the uninsured employer involved. Also, if an employer decides they don’t want to keep paying for workers’ compensation for somebody who cannot work and they fire the the injured person, there might be grounds for a lawsuit based upon that retaliation losses. Most personal injury attorneys don’t handle employment cases, but they can at least help the person find an attorney who does. Often, someone who was injured has other legal needs as well.  If the personal injury attorney can’t help them to deal with all of their issues, they can help find somebody who can. There are many reasons to get an attorney involved, and the sooner the better. There really is not much to lose, especially with a personal injury claim, because the fees are generally on a contingency basis. If the plaintiff doesn’t win, they don’t owe the attorney anything.

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