However, in many cases, personal injury attorneys are able to coordinate with highly qualified doctors whose expertise goes a long way toward alleviating the plaintiff’s physical ailments. As the health of these plaintiffs improves, and their medical bills mount, they begin to worry about how they will pay for the treatment they’ve received.
Fortunately, if they have gone through a personal injury attorney, chances are that much, even most, of the medical treatment has been provided on a lien, meaning that the doctor agrees not to charge the patient until a settlement, judgment, or verdict has been reached.
However, under the law, if not enough money is recovered (for example, in instances where there is no insurance coverage or it is insufficient to pay the doctors), the plaintiff is still responsible to pay the doctors.
Thus, as health improves, a plaintiff naturally begins to shift the focus from their health to their financial well-being. And for good reason. In addition to growing medical expenses, many plaintiffs have missed work due to their injuries, have diminished earning capacity, or might be unable to work due to injury-related disability. In those
cases, a plaintiff’s financial concerns are justified. But what has to happen in a case before they are compensated for their losses?
Like most good answers, it depends. If liability is not an issue (meaning the defendant accepts responsibility for the harm and agrees to pay for the losses), then all that needs to be determined is what the amount of losses is. The
plaintiff’s attorney will collect information related to losses, including medical bills, lost wages, diminished earning capacity, loss of household services (inability to perform household chores to the same degree as before the accident), pain and suffering, and other categories of damages.
With all the information compiled, the attorney will send a demand letter to the responsible party (usually to their insurance company, who is responsible for insuring the loss). At that point, the parties will negotiate, and if they can come up with an amount that compensates the plaintiff for loss to his or her satisfaction, and it
is an amount within the policy limits of the defendant’s policy that the insurance company is willing to part with voluntarily, then the parties will settle, and the attorney, the healthcare providers, and the plaintiff will all be paid.
On the other hand, if negotiations fail, it may be necessary for the plaintiff to actually file a lawsuit. Once a complaint is filed, the insurance company can no longer negotiate on its own, but must get an attorney involved. Depending on the motives and caliber of the attorney, this may make negotiations more fruitful or may delay any
Once a lawsuit is filed, both parties have the opportunity to collect evidence — with the subpoena power of the court behind them — that can substantiate their respective claims and defenses.
During discovery, parties can gather records and testimony from parties to the lawsuit and uninvolved parties alike. This includes the ability to subpoena third-parties who have information relevant to the lawsuit, taking depositions (sworn testimony) of anyone who might have knowledge of the events underlying the claim, inspecting land and personal property, and asking written questions of the other parties with the power to demand complete answers.
Every piece of information gathered that a party intends to use at trial (and in many cases even information gathered that the party does not intend to use at trial) must be disclosed and made available to the other party.
Throughout this process, which can take years, the parties often will further negotiations, with the aim of settling the case prior to trial. Sometimes the attorneys merely engage in informal settlement negotiations (oral and written), or frequently the parties will also hire a professional mediator to help them find common ground.
Because trial is unpredictable, and neither party wants to get caught holding the short end of the stick, settlement occurs in almost all cases. However, because trial is a potential in every case, wise attorneys work the case as though it is going to go to trial.
If the case settles during litigation but before trial, then the case is over. If not, and the parties go to trial, then it will not be until the judge or jury renders a verdict that the case is over —
assuming neither party appeals.
In Nevada, a case for negligence — which comprises almost every personal injury case — must be brought within two years of the accident. Additionally, the case must be tried within five years of the commencement of the lawsuit. That means that a case can take as long as seven years from the date of the accident to resolution.
In reality, most cases settle, and therefore most cases do not take that long, but even quick cases take several months to reach a resolution. When it comes to civil litigation, there is no question that the wheels of justice turn slowly.
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Zachariah B. Parry is a civil litigation attorney and partner at his firm, Pickard Parry. He can be reached at 702-910-4300, through his firm’s website at www. pickardparry.com, or his direct email, email@example.com.