I Was Injured in an Accident: How Does the Personal Injury Process Work in Virginia?
If you have been injured through no fault of your own in the Commonwealth of Virginia, you have a legal right to pursue compensation for your injuries and losses. A personal injury can be physically, emotionally, and financially damaging, and often these impacts can be quite significant. Spending thousands of dollars on medical care, time missed from work, and property repairs after an injury that was not your fault is frustrating and can seriously disrupt your life.
What is My Case Worth?
If you know anyone who has had a personal injury claim in the past, you may have heard stories that are pretty hard to believe. It seems like everyone knows a story of someone who had a relatively minor injury and collected “big” in a settlement. While situations like that are possible, they are rare. More often, a case’s value is determined by a few factors:
- What were the costs associated with your recovery after the accident?
- Did you miss out on any income or use your paid leave time while you were recovering from this accident?
- Did you experience pain, suffering and inconvenience while you recovered from your injuries?
- Did you suffer any long term or permanent damage as a result of the accident?
At its most basic level, a personal injury claim is worth what an insurance company would be willing to offer to settle or what a judge or a jury would award at trial. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to take a look at the above factors and combine them with knowledge about an insurance company, judge, or jury would do to come to an evaluation of your claim.
Personal Injury: Step by Step
Every personal injury claim is different. In each accident, the circumstances and injuries will vary and change how the case should be handled. However, there are certain stages that are common among most personal injury claims in the Commonwealth of Virginia:
1. Get all Necessary Medical Care
After you have been injured in an accident, the most important thing for your health and your claim is to seek medical attention. Receiving appropriate medical care after an accident is necessary to create a documentary record of your injuries, and these records make it much easier to demonstrate that your injuries were caused by the accident. Failure to get medical attention or waiting too long to see a doctor after an accident can weaken your claim and cause you further injuries and complications.
Often, individuals will begin medical treatment and then stop before the course of treatment is complete. They do this either because they start to feel better or the treatment becomes too expensive or inconvenient. However, failure to complete treatment is not only risky for your health (failure to fully recover after an accident can lead to long-term suffering and further injury), it can also lower the amount you can recover in your personal injury claim.
2. Meet with an Attorney
As soon as you are able after your accident, you should meet with an attorney to tell your story and provide any documents you have related to the accident. Documents include medical bills, documentation and information from insurance companies, auto repair quotes, photographs, text messages, etc. You can then sign an engagement letter with the attorney and an authorization that allows the attorney to talk to your medical care providers and receive medical records.
3. Attorney Investigation
The attorney will then go about investigating your claim. This includes obtaining and reviewing medical records, obtaining lost wage information, reviewing the police report, interviewing witnesses, and visiting the site of the accident, if necessary.
4. Make Demand
Once the attorney has gathered all necessary documentation and information, he or she can begin putting together a demand package. A demand package is a clear and full statement of all injuries, supported by documentation, that demonstrates the extent of your damages. At Wakefield Law, our personal injury team has the experience and the attention to detail to put together complete packages that make your claim clear to opposing party. Once the package is complete, we review it with the client, obtain your approval, and send the settlement demand to the negligent party’s insurance company.
5. Settlement Negotiations
After the opposing party (often an insurance company) has a chance to review the demand package, settlement negotiations will begin. Wakefield Law will negotiate on your behalf, going back and forth with the opposing party to try to reach a settlement. Although the attorney is representing you in the negotiation, you have the final say when it comes to the settlement amount. If your attorney is able to negotiate a settlement offer that is acceptable to you, the matter can be resolved outside of court.
When negotiating a settlement, one of the strongest incentives for the negligent party’s insurance company is to avoid going to trial. As the injured party, you have the right to file a claim in court and have a judge or jury determine whether you are entitled to compensation. This process is much more expensive and unpredictable for the party that is at fault, which makes it a very useful tool for your attorney. However, it is only possible to use a trial as a negotiating tool when it is legal to bring a court case. After the date of an accident, Virginia law allows two calendar years for the injured party to bring a claim in court. This is called the Statute of Limitations. After the two calendar years have elapsed, the possibility of bringing a claim in court has expired (for minors, the Statute of Limitations starts when the injured person reaches eighteen years of age).
If no settlement can be reached and it is within the two-year Statute of Limitations, the case goes to court, where a judge or jury will decide whether the opposing party was at fault and how much compensation is appropriate.
A Word about Fault: Contributory Negligence
If the matter does end up in court, it will be your attorney’s responsibility to prove that the defendant was legally at fault when you were injured. To show legal fault, your attorney will need to demonstrate to the jury that
1. The defendant did something wrong (in an auto accident, this is something like speeding, failure to yield, or some other form of negligence),
2. The thing that the defendant did wrong actually caused your injury, and
3. That you did not do anything wrong to contribute to your injury.
The Commonwealth of Virginia is what is known as a “Contributory Negligence” state. In a contributory negligence state, the plaintiff cannot have done anything that contributed to his or her own injuries. This means that if the plaintiff was even 1% or less at fault for their injuries, the defendant cannot be found responsible. In Virginia, if a personal injury claim goes to trial, the opposing attorney will look for any reason to say you are legally at fault in some way.
Get an Experienced Professional on Your Team
Every case is different, and it is essential to talk to an attorney about your particular case before signing anything or trying to work out a settlement on your own. When there is an insurance company on the other side of your case, like in an auto accident, that insurance company is going to try to settle the matter out of court for as little money as possible. On the other hand, you (and your attorney) want to get as much money from your claim as possible. That makes it essential for you to consult with an attorney before signing any settlement agreement with the insurance company.
At Wakefield Law, we know that the period after an accident is difficult, hectic, and often painful. It is our mission to support you and work on your behalf to make sure you get the most for your claim. That’s why our dedicated team takes care of everything – we communicate with medical professionals, law enforcement, insurance companies, and employers to make sure your claim is complete, accurate, and handled properly from start to finish.
To learn more about the personal injury process and to speak with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys, give Wakefield Law a call at 703-771-9740.