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Home  »  Personal Injury   »   What is the Process of Filing a Personal Injury Claim in California?

What is the Process of Filing a Personal Injury Claim in California?

What is the Process of Filing a Personal Injury Claim in California?

Dec 24, 2019

For residents of California, the personal injury claim process can seem overly complex and even intimidating at first glance. This can be especially true if you find yourself researching the claim process after having just endured a serious injury. This blog will provide you with all the relevant information required, regardless of your particular situation. Whether you’re recently injured and seeking to file a civil lawsuit, know someone who recently sustained an injury and is considering filing an insurance claim, or are simply looking to become better informed on the subject matter, we have you covered.

What is a personal injury claim?

Personal injury claims are meant to make an injured person “whole” again following an accident. The purpose of filing a personal injury claim is to restore the injured party to the financial state he or she was in prior to the accident or injury.

Once any immediate health concerns related to an injury have been addressed, you will want to determine if you wish to pursue a personal injury claim (and whether you wish to do so on your own or with the assistance of a personal injury lawyer). You may have heard those two options referred to as either the insurance process or the legal process. However, restricting your options two a mere two categories is actually a gross oversimplification. In fact, lawyers often assist in handling personal injury insurance claims, as well as the numerous legal processes pertaining to a claim that can result.

For minor injuries, one may wish to not hire an attorney and instead pursue the personal injury insurance claim process on their own. This process involves contacting the insurance company* for the at-fault party in an effort to receive compensation for expenses related to the accident (what’s known as a personal injury claim settlement). The insurance company will likely take your recorded statement, and you will be asked to describe the events as they happened to the best of your recollection. Subsequently, you can expect to receive some forms to sign that will summarize any settlement amount you might be entitled to, and ultimately close the matter.

*This presumes the other party has insurance. If you have been injured and the at-fault party does not have insurance, it is in your best interest to contact a personal injury lawyer immediately.

The insurance process can be less time consuming than the legal process, and some may find it to be less of an overall hassle. However, most personal injury firms provide free consultations so you can discuss your specific circumstances with an attorney. Taking advantage of a free consultation with an experienced attorney before entering into any agreements with an insurance company is always recommended. 

Why consult with a personal injury attorney?

Such a consultation typically takes only a few minutes. Additionally, given what you could stand to lose by handling the process on your own (e.g. if latent, more significant injuries are found after signing an agreement with an insurance company), there’s really no reason not to first inquire with a personal injury lawyer after experiencing an injury.

By consulting with a lawyer, you will be able to determine whether or not you have legal standing, which is required to file a lawsuit. To have legal standing, you must:

  • Have a direct connection to the subject of the lawsuit (i.e. you must have been directly harmed, through either action or inaction, by the defendant).
  • Be what’s referred to as a “legal entity” (i.e. someone who has legal status, like a person, corporation, a government agency, etc.).
  • Have legal capacity (i.e. over age 18 and mentally competent). *In instances where someone is deemed to not have legal capacity (whether due to mental incompetence or a similar circumstance) an individual with legal capacity can file a lawsuit as a representative on another’s behalf.

Once you confirm whether or not you have legal standing, you can decide how you wish to proceed with your personal injury claim. In California, when utilizing the legal route, details of the personal injury claim (such as the amount and where the accident occurred) determine where it is ultimately filed. Typically, personal injury claims are filed in one of three venues:

  1. For an injury sustained at work, a claim is filed with the state’s Division of Workers’ Compensation.
  2. If the amount of the claim falls below $10,000, a claim is filed in small claims court.
  3. If the amount of the claim exceeds $10,000, a claim is filed in California civil court.

Additionally, a consultation with a personal injury attorney will help you understand who is responsible and who should be sued. Though determining responsibility may seem straightforward, it’s an important step in a California lawsuit that requires careful consideration. In personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff must be able to prove the party was negligent in their actions, and that said negligence ultimately resulted in an injury. If necessary, an attorney can assist you in identifying any assets the defendant might have during this stage. 

Moreover, in instances where responsibility might fall onto both the defendant and you, the plaintiff and injured party, having an attorney is critical to ensuring that you are able to prove your case for damages (and aren’t left without compensation, despite mounting bills, due to a legal technicality or the fact that you might assume a portion of the responsibility). 

Statute of limitations for personal injury claims:

Following an injury, you have a finite amount of time to file a personal injury lawsuit. California law includes a statute of limitations for all personal injury claims that specifies how much time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit. In California, the general rule is that an injured party has two years from the date of the accident to file a claim (although you should consult with an attorney regarding your unique case to confirm that this applies). That two-year window takes effect the moment the injury was sustained, meaning an individual has two years from when the injury occurred to initiate a personal injury lawsuit.

Failure to file a claim within two years can result in the loss of your right to seek financial compensation. Additionally, the general statute of limitations varies when filing a personal injury lawsuit against the government (in such cases, the statute of limitations is actually much shorter). The varying statutes, which apply differently to various types of claims, are yet another reason why, particularly in California, injury victims are advised to discuss their options with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

The steps in the legal process:

Before filing a lawsuit, a personal injury lawyer will likely make attempts at negotiating a settlement with the at-fault party (referred to as the defendant if the case were to proceed to the courtroom). Typically, if the two sides can reach an agreement and avoid taking the matter to court, everyone involved stands to benefit (particularly in terms of time involved and costs incurred). 

Part of that negotiation process may involve a demand letter on behalf of the claimant (referred to as the plaintiff, should the case eventually go to trial) to the at-fault party’s insurance company. A demand letter usually includes specific information related to the accident including:

  • Why the insurance company’s client (insured party) is responsible for the claimant’s injuries
  • The nature and extent of any and all injuries suffered by claimant
  • All facts and details concerning any medical treatment the claimant required
  • Facts concerning any applicable income loss on the part of the claimant
  • Detailed description of the claimant’s “pain and suffering” (known as subjective losses)

The demand letter officially begins the process of negotiation in earnest, and can include a suggested settlement figure for the insurance company to consider. Alternatively, depending on your attorney’s strategy, the demand letter may omit a settlement figure and instead simply state your case in the strongest possible terms (with the intent of forcing the insurance company to process the facts and provide an initial settlement offer in their response). 

Regardless, once a demand letter has been submitted the insurance company or at-fault party’s attorney will issue a response in due time. However, if both sides are unable to eventually reach an agreement through negotiation, the claimant’s attorney will issue two filings with the court:

  1. Summons: Which notifies the defendant that they’re being sued
  2. A Complaint: Which includes the circumstances related to the injury, provides details related to the defendant’s liability, and specifies an amount being demanded in damages

Once the complaint is filed, the likelihood of your case heading to trial increases considerably. If a trial is unavoidable, it will require preparation that typically entails finding expert witnesses, gathering evidence, and the discovery process of taking depositions and compiling all necessary documents and records related to medical procedures, expenses, etc.

What sort of damages can I expect to receive after filing my personal injury claim?

Depending on the specifics related to the your unique case, injury victims can be entitled to compensation for the cost of medical bills and procedures related to the injury, lost wages, pain & suffering, emotional distress, miscellaneous expenses, and punitive damages.

However, being entitled to such damages and actually receiving such damages are two entirely different things. Whether or not one is actually awarded a settlement for damages often comes down to the type of legal representation they have selected. This is particularly evident when determining subjective damages that can’t be easily quantified such as pain & suffering. An experienced and competent personal injury attorney can help ensure that your settlement is representative of your unique situation, and takes into account all factors, including those that go beyond simple receipts for medical bills or estimates of lost wages. 

As there are no guarantees to damages when sustaining an injury, documenting your situation via copious notes, maintaining meticulous files of bills, records, and expenses, and having an experienced lawyer who will fight for you can make all the difference in the world. 

Finding the best personal injury attorney to represent you:

When seeking out a personal injury lawyer to handle your claim, look for someone with experience handling similar cases (if you were injured in a commercial truck accident, make an effort to find an attorney who has represented and secured substantial settlements for claimants with similar circumstances).

Be sure to verify a prospective attorney’s win/loss record, as well as any settlements they claim to have secured via independent sources such as news outlets or legal journals (attorneys will often issue press releases following major settlements and victories, and such information can be easily verified through the news).

Why choose Dordulian Law Group for your personal injury claim?

Former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Samuel Dordulian, and the DLG team have decades of experience representing victims in various areas within personal injury law including: 

We have secured multi-million dollar settlements and judgments for clients who have been impacted by the events listed above. Moreover, we provide our clients with peace of mind during what can be extremely trying circumstances through discretion, respect, and advocacy for justice on their behalf. 

We understand that each client has a unique case and a unique story to tell, and we will approach your case accordingly. Our ultimate goal is to secure the largest possible settlement for you in the shortest amount of time, considering the circumstances and details related to your accident or injury. 

We’re available 24 hours a day, every day of the year, online and by phone at 800-880-7777. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us for a free consultation. We are happy to answer any question you may have regarding a potential personal injury claim.

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