You’ve been injured, but first things first: you need to get better. If you have been injured the number one priority is for you to take time to get better. Get the surgery. See your orthopedist. Make those follow up appointments. Do your physical therapy exercises. Start going to therapy to deal with the heavy emotional toll accidents take.
After you are hurt, it’s always a good idea to consult with a lawyer. You should know that after you hire a lawyer for a crash injury, he or she may not do a whole lot for you at the beginning. There may be some early investigation – issue a FOIA request, obtain accident reports, maybe send an investigator to the scene of the accident to collect evidence. But the time for heavy lifting hasn’t come yet. Every situation is different, but typically, I check in with my clients once a month on their progress. Priority one is for you to get better.
Medical malpractice cases are different. For medical malpractice cases, we will immediately collect your medical records because we will need to hire independent expert doctors to review your case. In the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, a medical malpractice case cannot proceed unless experts have reviewed the medical records and agree that a doctor’s medical treatment violated accepted standards of care. This takes time and we always move quickly.
In the typical accident/crash case, a client will have a pretty good idea of what the course of their recovery looks like after about six months. In a lot of cases, clients have had surgery and are completing physical therapy. At that point, my office will collect copies of medical bills and records from each of the doctors or healthcare providers. Once we have those materials organized, we write a letter to the at fault party’s insurance carrier and assess whether settlement as possible or whether we will need to file a lawsuit. Some insurance companies will negotiate in good faith. Others will not.
Once again, medical malpractice cases are different. The victim may not have recovered and maybe they will never recover. That doesn’t slow us down – we hire experts to make informed predictions about what the future is likely to hold. Unfortunately, medical malpractice cases rarely settle without filing a lawsuit.
The litigation process-what to expect
When we file the lawsuit, the real work begins. My clients will always be referred to as the Plaintiff, or the party filing a lawsuit. (Kitchel Law never represents defendants.)
Sometimes suit will be filed in what is known as district court. These courts, in Maryland and Virginia, move quickly and are inexpensive for clients, but the amount clients can recover is limited (to $50,000 in Virginia and $30,000 in Maryland). District courts are great places to file suits where injuries are non-catastrophic and not permanent.
Most suits are filed in what are called circuit courts (or D.C. Superior Court). Circuit courts are for bigger cases – the process is slower and more expensive, but there is generally no limit on the amount that can be awarded. (There are exceptions for medical malpractice cases.)
Trials you see on TV are not like real life.
Many clients see trials on television where there are surprise witnesses and documents. That’s not real life. In reality, we engage in a process called discovery, where both sides disclose their evidence. At first, that happens in writing. Each side asks the other side for documents such as medical records, pictures, cell phone records, and insurance policies. Each side also asks written questions. At its core, each side is trying to determine how the other side believes the injuries happened and who the relevant witnesses will be.
Using that information, the case moves into oral discovery and depositions are taken.
A deposition is a recorded question and answer session. It is a formal interview given under oath and a court reporter transcribes everything that is said. Your deposition will likely be taken – you will raise your right hand, promise to tell the truth, and then answer the other lawyer’s questions. This is the insurance company’s chance to learn about your injuries and your side of the story. It is very important! The insurance lawyer will immediately tell the insurance company whether you are likeable, whether your story is credible, and whether a jury is likely to believe you.
We will also take depositions. We will depose the person responsible for the accident. We may depose the person’s employer about policies and training. We may depose witnesses who will support your side of the story. We may also depose doctors the insurance company hires to testify against you.
Once depositions are completed, both sides to the lawsuit will have a pretty good idea about the case’s strengths and weaknesses. Often, this is a good time to try to settle the case. Some courts require parties to talk to a neutral mediator who will attempt to get both sides to agree to an amount of money to settle the lawsuit.
Whether to settle a lawsuit is up to you. The advantage of settling is that it brings closure and certainty. The lawsuit will end. The insurance company will pay the agreed upon amount and you move on with your life. If a case does not settle, a trial date will be scheduled. Trials can be risky – even if you win, the other side can appeal, and resolving appeals can take years.
Trials can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. They can be before a judge, or with a jury. Either side can appeal a verdict, depending on the specifics of each case.
This is a birds eye view of the litigation process. Unfortunately, particularly due to covid, courts move slowly and it can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to get to trial. Car accidents with non-severe injuries move much faster than complex medical malpractice actions.
If you have been injured by a negligent doctor or driver, talk to Allyson about your rights and what compensation may be available. This is the purpose of insurance! But insurance companies never pay full value for an jury unless they know a lawyer is going to make them. Send Allyson your contact information, below, or call her at 202-949-7109.