How the Personal Injury Claims Process Works in California
The personal injury claims process in California begins when you decide it does. After suffering an injury due to someone else’s negligence and seeing a doctor, you will have the choice to follow through by taking legal action against that party. Many people are not certain that they want to bother with a personal injury case – until medical bills and other losses start adding up. At that point, it will probably become clear that you deserve justice and compensation, so the claims process should begin sooner than later.
The personal injury claims process will usually include these steps:
- Hire an attorney: If you want to take the stress out of a personal injury claim, the fastest way to do it is by hiring a lawyer to act on your behalf. They can move your case forward and deal with all other involved parties, including the opposition.
- Open a claim with the insurance company: The vast majority of injury claims are not filed against the individual who caused an injury or loss. Instead, they are filed against the insurance company representing them, so the process typically involves opening a claim with that insurance company.
- Demand compensation: After you are done with medical treatment or have reached your expected maximum medical improvement, your attorney will send a demand of compensation or a “demand letter” to the party that caused your injury. This letter offers them a chance to provide compensation upfront without the need of getting the court system involved.
- File a lawsuit and start litigation: If the defendant does not accept the compensation demand, then the next step is to make your lawsuit official and file it in the correct court. Litigation is the overall court process that involves several steps, including filing the lawsuit, conducting discovery, completing motion work, attending hearings, and so forth, up to and including trial.
- Discovery: Both sides of the case will go through the discovery process to determine what evidence can help their argument, including requesting information from the other side.
- Trial: The trial is the last step of litigation. It involves judges, juries, attorneys, witnesses, and so on. The court will decide the outcome of the case at the end, including how much compensation is owed to the plaintiff.
Importantly, negotiations for a settlement agreement can take place at all points throughout this process, from the start and up until a jury comes back with a verdict. It is not unusual for a lawsuit to be filed and litigation to begin, only for the defendant to then enter settlement negotiations that benefit the plaintiff.
What Damages Are Available to the Claimant?
Every personal injury claim that seeks financial compensation will have value. The value or worth is the final total of all damages owed to the claimant.
Damages usually come in one of two forms:
- Economic: Damage or loss that can be tracked or recorded with receipts, bills, pay stubs, and so on is economic damage, also called special damages. The most common examples of economic damage in a personal injury claim are medical bills and lost wages.
- Non-economic: Damage that cannot be easily recorded with tangible receipts but is based on more abstract losses is non-economic damage, also called general damages. The physical pain, emotional trauma, and mental suffering you have endured could be your case’s most prominent forms of non-economic damage, for example.
There is a third type of damage that is rarely available in personal injury claims: punitive damage. When the defendant in a personal injury claim has acted egregiously negligent and acted with willful intent, the court might permit punitive damages to further punish them. Punitive damages are not based on any specific loss, so the amount can vary noticeably from case to case. As mentioned, punitive damages are rare, but we can let you know if they are applicable to your case.