Understandably, the personal injury claim process is a mystery to many. The attorneys of Sublette, Sanders & Sanders strive to make the claims process as understandable and simple as possible for our clients. What follows is a summary of that process.

Investigation of the Claim

Once our firm is retained to represent an individual or family we place the potential defendant, and the defendant's insurer if known, on notice of our representation. We then gather the necessary facts, documents and data surrounding our client's claim. We call this the "investigation" phase of a claim.

In the "investigation" phase of a claim we request and obtain medical records and bills, interview witnesses, obtain necessary statements, take photographs of the accident scene or of the automobile or product involved. Our purpose is to ensure that the claim is well documented and that all necessary evidence is preserved. We also make sure our client's injuries are treated and that their medical needs are being met. The "investigation" phase of a claim may take anywhere from 1 month to, in severe cases, a year or more, depending upon the complexity of the claim and the nature of our client's injuries and damages.

The Pre-Suite Demand

The progress of a client's personal injury claim is typically driven by the progress of the client's medical treatment. This is because the next step in the pre-suit phase of a claim is the "demand" phase. In the "demand" phase we prepare a demand package consisting of a demand letter, medical bills and records, and the results of our investigation. Typically, the demand package cannot, or should not, be sent until our client has reached a point in their medical treatment known as "maximum medical improvement." This is the point in their treatment where our client's physician informs them that they have finished treating or, if additional treatment is necessary, that they have nevertheless reached the point in their treatment where further improvement in their condition will not occur. It is not unusual for there to be a one month to one year period between the conclusion of the "investigation" phase of a claim and the preparation of a demand package as we wait for our client to finish treating.

Approximately 80% of our cases settle without the need for a lawsuit. This is for a number of reasons. Most clients and defendants desire certainty in the result of a claim. A pre-suit settlement gives certainty through a defined, known amount being paid by a defendant to our client without the risk of a trial. In our firm the decision of whether to settle is always left to the client, although we will offer advice based upon our experience and our knowledge of the claim as to what is, and is not, a fair settlement offer.

The Lawsuit

In approximately 20% of our cases a lawsuit is necessary. A lawsuit is typically necessary because either:

1. The liability, or fault, aspect of our client's claim is weak and the defendant's insurer is unwilling to pay fair value for our client's injuries; or,

2. The damages, or injury, aspect of our client's claim is greater in our opinion, or our client's opinion, than the defendant's insurer believes it to be.

Occasionally, we will pursue a lawsuit notwithstanding the fact that a case is weak or a settlement offer is fair. This is because it is the philosophy of our firm that it is our role to provide sound advice about the merits of a case or a settlement offer, but it is up to our client to make the decision whether to settle or whether to pursue their rights in court. Our philosophy is different from many other personal injury firms which often refuse to file a lawsuit, or withdraw from representation, if a client does not take what is being offered in settlement.

The Trial

Approximately 90% of our cases placed into suit settle before trial at mediation. "Mediation" is a court ordered negotiation which occurs on the eve of trial. Settlement at mediation is voluntary and cannot be forced by the court or mediator. Most clients and defendants desire an outcome with certainty, and a trial of a claim is anything but certain, which is why so many cases settle at mediation. We usually receive more in settlement at mediation than was offered pre-suit, but that increased amount is often offset by the increased cost incurred by the client in bringing the case through the lawsuit phase.

When claims do not settle through the pre-suit or litigation phase of the process we take them to trial. Our firm is committed to trying cases when our client is not being treated fairly by the defendant's insurer or when our client desires a trial. Any trial is fraught with uncertainty and potential cost to a client, yet some firms tout their desire to try cases without telling their clients that a trial may not be in their client's best financial interest. Conversely, some firms shy away from trials because of the cost and uncertainty involved. Our firm will willingly try a case where our client is being treated unfairly, but will also advise a client to settle when the settlement offer is fair. Ultimately, however, that decision is left to the client.

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