If you're like most people who have been injured in a car accident, you may be more than a little uncertain about what comes next. How do you cover your medical bills? How do you hold the at-fault driver liable? What needs to happen in order to get your settlement? To make matters even more confusing, every state treats liability a little bit differently from a legal standpoint, so the process may be different in Tennessee than in other states. Let's take a look at a timeline of the claim process for your Nashville car accident step by step so you know what to expect and how to move forward.
Step One: Medical Treatment
Your first priority after a car accident is to get medical attention, even if you think your injuries are minor. Many people delay seeking treatment because they don't think their injuries are serious enough. However, by waiting for even a day or two after the accident, you could open the door to further medical complications. If you don't do everything possible to get treated right away, the insurance company may try to use this against you to reduce the amount of your claim.
Step Two: Hiring an Attorney
Once you've gotten started with medical care, your next step is to hire an experienced Nashville personal injury attorney, preferably someone who understands Tennessee personal injury law and how much your injuries should be worth in a settlement. Hiring an attorney early in the process is important because a) the evidence is still fresh, and b) if you're going to file a lawsuit, you have only a year to do so under Tennessee's statute of limitations. Your attorney will get to work right away with an investigation of what happened, how it happened, what the damages are, and who is at fault.
Step Three: Insurance Investigations
In the meantime, the insurance companies (both yours and that of the other driver) will conduct investigations of their own to determine the value of the accident claim. They will likely want to take statements from you and the other drivers involved, inspect the wreckage, and review the police report. They may also try to contact your doctor to get a medical evaluation. It's important to remember that anything you say to the insurance company can and will be used against you in negotiations, so it's best not to say anything without an attorney involved.
Step Four: Settlement Offer and Negotiation
Once fault has been determined, the at-fault driver's insurance will typically make you an initial settlement offer. In a great many cases, this offer will be less than you're legally entitled to, and the insurance company may put pressure on you to settle quickly. Your attorney will then counter with your own demand for compensation and will begin negotiating to obtain a fair settlement. In some cases, the attorney can negotiate a fair settlement without the matter proceeding further. Never sign a release or accept a settlement offer without your attorney's advice.
Step Five: Filing a Lawsuit
If negotiations break down and the insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement, your attorney will file a lawsuit on your behalf to initiate legal proceedings. Again, this step must be taken within a year of your accident to stay within Tennessee's statute of limitations.
Step Six: Pre-Trial Negotiations
After the lawsuit is filed, the parties will typically go back into pre-trial negotiations to try to reach a settlement without going to trial. Insurance companies are often more open to negotiations at this point because filing the lawsuit says you are serious. If your attorney reaches a fair settlement, there will be no need for a trial.
Step Seven: Trial
If a settlement can't be reached, the case will go to trial. There, a jury will decide how much money you should receive for your injuries.
Step Eight: Final Settlement
If the case goes to trial and you are awarded a judgment by the jury, the defendant has to pay. Obtaining the final settlement check may take time, but with patience, you'll see your money.