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This step-by-step guide that helps to better understand the personal injury claims process:
For most personal injury cases, lawyers will offer a free consultation in order to assess your case for whether or not you may be entitled to damages. If you aren’t sure about what kind of damages you are able to claim, set up a free consultation to speak to a lawyer specializing in personal injury law.
Once you have sought consultation, you can decide whether or not to retain a lawyer. However, it is best to hire a lawyer as soon as possible after a car accident or another type of accident in order to avoid making any mistakes in starting your claim and prevent an insurance company from contacting you directly. Insurance companies jump at the opportunity to drill a car accident victim with questions and may use recorded answers against you in the future. Once you hire a car accident lawyer, insurance company must contact you only through your lawyer.
Claims are only as strong as the evidence that support them. Once you’ve retained a personal injury lawyer, make sure to be forthcoming with your lawyer about all the facts of the case. Remember, your communications with your lawyer are protected under solicitor-client privilege, so you should divulge all facts and provide any documentation that will help your lawyer advance the best argument for your car accident case.
The more injured you are, the more compensation the insurance company has to pay you. Your car accident lawyer will suggest medical evaluation necessary to determine the seriousness of your injuries from a car accident or another type of accident. The lawyer will also help you find a medical rehabilitation facility which specializes in car accident injuries and is up to date on car insurance rules and regulations, so that your claims are approved by the insurance company. If you prefer, you can also consult with your family doctor and ask for a referral to specialists who can help determine the extent of your injuries and how much treatment you will need. Work with your legal and medical specialist to figure out the best route to your recovery and fair compensation.
Your lawyer will have, at this point, determined if you have a Tort claim (if the other car driver caused the accident) and an Accident Benefits claim (if you purchased a motor vehicle liability insurance policy and it was valid at the time of the car accident). Accident benefits are the benefits you are entitled to from your own insurance company without any consideration of fault or liability in the motor vehicle accident on your part.
According to SABS (Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule), rules governing Accident Benefit claims, your lawyer and your insurance company must go through mandatory mediation procedure. At this procedure, your lawyer prepares a mediation brief explaining your injuries and entitlement to specific accident benefits and sends it to the insurance company. Mediation is conducted over a three way telephone conference between your lawyer, insurance company adjuster and a mediator. Your lawyer will ask you to be available during the mediation so he or she can consult with your regarding the mediation. You do not have to attend lawyer’s office, you can just be available over the phone.
Your lawyer may have to mediate your Tort matter as well, depending on the jurisdiction in which the claim was filed. For example, for car accident claims filed with Ontario Superior Court of Justice located in downtown Toronto, mediation is mandatory in every personal injury case. This is your chance to discuss all the important issues with the defendant and see if the claim can be resolved.
At the end of the mediation, a settlement might be reached or not. If a settlement is reached, the insurance company will send a document requiring you to agree that you have no further claims against the car accident insurance company after they pay you the settlement. After you sign this document and it is forwarded to the insurance company, a cheque is sent out to the car accident law firm, which will contact you to come and pick it up. If a settlement is not reached, the mediator will produce a mediator’s report stating that the mediation has been conducted and no resolution has been reached. Only with this report can the case go forward.
It is possible that resolution might be reached on some, but not all, the issues during the mediation. In that case, mediator’s report will reflect that fact and a cheque for the amount of partial car accident settlement will be issued by a motor vehicle insurance company.
Once mandatory mediation fails for your Accident Benefits claim, your personal injury lawyer will decide whether to file a law suit or to take the matter to arbitration. The two-year limitation period does not begin from the date of loss (date of accident) for Accident Benefits claims. However, for your Tort claim, your lawyer must file Statement of Claim (court documents explaining what compensation you would like to receive from insurance company of the driver who caused the car accident), i.e. file a law suit, within 2 years of date of your accident. Claims arising out of motor vehicle accidents that happened more than 2 years ago are not allowed to be filed in court.
After a personal injury claim is filed in court, both the plaintiffs (lawyers representing you) and defendants (lawyers defending the motor vehicle insurance company) enter the “discovery” stage. At this point, both parties will begin to disclose evidence to each other. Part of that process is to ‘examine’ each other’s clients. What this means is that your lawyer and the defence lawyer will pick a day to meet at a court reporter’s office. At that meeting, defense lawyer will ask you questions under oath about the car accident and your injuries from it. Your answers will be audio recorded by a court reporter. Your lawyer will have a chance to ask the same questions from the driver who caused the accident. The purpose of such examination is to get more details about the car accident claim and liability of each driver for the accident. Also it allows each lawyer to assess how good of a witness at trial you and the other driver might be. Such examinations are usually limited to 7 hours for each side. Your lawyer will meet with you to discuss the examination process more and prepare you in terms of how the process works. Quite often, after Examination for Discovery, cases are settled.
If you agree to produce certain information or documents during the Examination for Discovery, so called undertakings, you will need to produce those before a settlement can occur.
At some point during the car accident claims process, your lawyer might set up a settlement discussion with the motor vehicle insurance company. Upon receiving instructions from you, your lawyer will try to come to a mutually agreeable settlement or your car accident claim that meets your expectations for damages and compensation. Such settlement discussions usually occur over the phone or through written correspondence. However, if no settlement is reached and discussions are inconclusive, then the matter will proceed to pre-trial conference.
This conference is a meeting between the lawyers and a judge in order to narrow down the issues of the motor vehicle claim and settle it without going to trial. A convincing written submission that outlines the evidence and why the client is entitled to receive damages is sent to the judge to review before the conference. Most often all of the cases settle either right before or right after Pre-Trial Conference.
Personal injury claims usually settle prior to going to trial. If your claim is one of the few that does go to trial, then your personal injury lawyer will consult with you and guide you through the car accident trial procedure. Usually trial involves your lawyers arguing your case in court and requesting fair compensation you deserve.