Ranken & Shnider, Attorneys at Law Aug. 10, 2020

It is quite common in rear-end collisions for a person to develop symptoms over a period of days or even weeks after the accident and delay treatment. The key here is to go to your doctor as soon as you do notice any symptoms. The longer you wait before seeking any kind of medical attention the harder it is to establish that the injury was caused by the accident.

How Important Is Following Doctor’s Orders in An Auto Accident Claim?

I cannot stress enough how very important it is to follow a physician’s orders. The main area where I see problems is when an injured party is referred for a course of physical therapy, which means several treatments, and they just miss the appointments or stop going all together. That would be reflected in the records, and may be taken as a sign that the person is not really injured, recovered quickly or did not feel that their own injury was severe enough that they needed treatment. This can be a problem in itself, because the law requires an injured person to mitigate their damages.

In this context, it means to do everything they can to get better. If a doctor has recommended certain treatments or testing, and the patient does not follow these instructions, then they may be making their condition worse by not seeking medical care. We are not allowed to blame the other driver if the condition worsens as a result of not receiving proper medical treatment. The one exception to that is surgery. Sometimes a doctor will recommend surgery, but the patient is not a fan of surgery, and maybe afraid to go under the knife, and that is the patient’s choice. Everybody is entitled to refuse elective surgery and choose instead to live with chronic pain. No one can force you to have surgery. It will not harm your case in general if you decline that option.

How Long Do Auto Accident Claims typically Take to Get Resolved?

Auto accidents can take anywhere from six months to over four years to resolve. Many times it depends on how severe the injuries are, and how fast the person heals or reaches a point of stability in terms of their condition. The doctor must be able to give an expert opinion as to how much this injury will continue to affect the person in the future. We also have to wait until the medical bills reach that $5,000 level before we are even eligible to make a claim against the other driver for this accident. More often, it is more like a year to a year and a half, because typical auto accident injuries do take that long to resolve. For the first year, the person may be experiencing a considerable degree of discomfort, but the insurance company is not going to accept that. It is any kind of permanent injury where that person really has not had enough time to heal.

They will not offer a significant amount for say a whiplash injury because they want to wait and see if the person does get better, or if they are left with any long term disabilities. If I try to settle the case too soon, I am just not going to be able to get as much compensation for my client, because the insurance company will assume that they will recover, and that may not actually be the case. Cases can be resolved at different stages; one would be prior to filing a lawsuit. I present the insurance company with a demand package and the insurance adjuster reviews it and then I negotiate with the insurance adjuster on behalf of my client. Hopefully we will reach a mutually agreeable settlement amount.

If we do not agree on a settlement, then the next stage is to file the complaint in court. In auto accident cases, it gets assigned to a non-binding arbitration program administered by the court. The arbitrator will be assigned within nine months of the filing of the case, and the arbitrator will hold a hearing and render an advisory decision or award as to whether the plaintiff or the defendant should prevail and how much the damages should be. It can be rejected by either party or move on to a jury trial, but it does result in the settlement of many cases, because if both parties accept the award, then it becomes a final judgment, or at least it can be used as a basis of negotiating a fair judgment.

The arbitration hearing itself is a simplified trial that only lasts a half day, and it is conducted usually in a personal injury attorney’s office, there is no court reporter. It is rather informal. There are documents and medical records submitted including doctor’s reports. Usually there is no live testimony from any doctor. It is a simple process, and less expensive, and nevertheless, it gives both sides a good feel for how things might go at trial. This can help evaluate the case and maybe reach a settlement between both parties. If it does not settle through either pre-filing negotiations or at arbitration, then we would either have mediation with a professional mediator, usually a retired judge, or a settlement conference with the trial judge. This does get many cases resolved in this timely manner.

If that does not work, then we go to trial before a jury. A jury trial would be scheduled about a year and a half after the filing of the complaint. It could be two or even three years after the accident itself.

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