By Francis M. Smith
Most people who suffer injuries in traffic accidents find themselves in the unfamiliar position of needing to seek compensation for an injury claim for the first time, and many have never seen the inside of a courtroom before. In all but the most clear-cut of cases, dealing with an accident injury claim is anything but simple. Evidence needs to be collected; expert witnesses must be deposed; paperwork from hospitals, doctors, physical therapists, and other health care providers must be gathered; and the insurance adjuster must be dealt with. During all this, you may still be trying to recover from your injuries and find ways to pay your bills while your injuries prevent you from working. Unless the injuries you sustained in your accident were very minor, it's almost always the better choice to hire an accident lawyer to handle your claim. Not only will your attorney take much of the burden of managing your case off your shoulders while you heal, but you're much more likely to receive fair and sufficient compensation for your injuries when you've got an experienced accident lawyer on your side.
One of the major benefits of working with an accident lawyer is being able to take advantage of his understanding of the legal process, and the resources and connections at his disposal. Your lawyer can, many times, make arrangements with your medical providers for them to be paid out of your eventual verdict or settlement, so you can continue to be treated even if you don't have the money to pay for your care out-of-pocket. Your attorney can reach out to expert witnesses who can offer clear and informed testimony in support of your claim. But one of the most valuable skills your accident lawyer brings to the table is his knowledge of how insurance adjusters operate and how to recognize their unfair tactics designed to undermine your case or lower your injury compensation.
Most injury claims are settled without going to trial, and reaching an out-of-court settlement has some clear advantages for you as the injured person. When you agree to a settlement, you'll get your money much more quickly than if you had to wait through a trial, and you have a much greater degree of certainty about the sum you will receive. However, a willingness to take your case to court is essential for pressing the insurance adjuster to agree to a fair settlement that fully covers your medical and other expenses and accounts for the pain and suffering you have experienced. Your accident lawyer will be able to recognize when the insurance company has pushed a settlement figure that is much too low and is unlikely to be moved with further negotiation. He can also tell when the insurance adjuster is stalling, trying to make you lose patience with the process or run out the clock on the statute of limitations for a lawsuit.
Under most circumstances, in New Jersey, an adult has a period of two years in which to file a personal injury lawsuit. If the injured person was a minor at the time of the accident, that two-year clock starts ticking on their 18th birthday, when they have the legal power to pursue legal action without relying on a parent (but the case may be brought by a parent, on behalf of the minor child, at any time). If the party being sued is a government entity, different time limits may apply. If you do not file suit before the statute of limitation expires, you may permanently lose the opportunity to seek compensation for your injuries. Taking your case to court may mean that you don't receive a damage award until years after the accident (because of the backlog of cases, and the time a lowed for the exchange of information - called 'discovery' in civil cases - you may not even get a trial date for over a year), but in some cases it's the only way to force the insurance company to pay you a fair amount.
Holding out for a better settlement, or taking the insurance company to court, isn't a matter of greed. You have the right to enough compensation to cover any medical treatment your injuries require, for however long it takes until your doctor determines that you have reached your maximum recovery potential. You may require surgery or physical therapy to heal completely, or you may be left with a long-term or permanent disability that requires regular treatment or special medical devices. For the sake of your health, you should follow through completely on your doctor's treatment plan, and then seek compensation for that medical care and your other expenses from the insurance company. Being consistent with your medical treatment also strengthens your injury claim, as it shows that your injuries are serious and that you are taking them seriously. Never accept a settlement offer before you have completed your medical treatment and recovered fully from your injuries, because you can't go back and seek further compensation if needed once a settlement has been agreed upon. The best way to know when to settle - or to take your case to trial - is by being represented by an experienced personal injury attorney.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please contact me or call me at 908-233-5800 for a free consultation.