Many people understand that when they suffer injuries in an accident caused by someone else, the at-fault party could be liable for the damages. While most individuals are aware that they have this right, many do not know how the injury claims process actually works.
It is essential to understand that South Carolina Code § 15-3-350 establishes a statute of limitations of three years for all personal injury actions. That means you must file a personal injury lawsuit within three years of the accident, with only very narrow exceptions. North Carolina General Statute § 1-52 also provides a three-year limitation period for actions filed in that state. If a person files a lawsuit after this period, the court will refuse to hear their case unless a narrow exception applies.
For this reason, quick action is often required after a person has suffered severe injuries in an accident. The action that a person takes, however, still needs to be cautious and considered. Some victims make mistakes in attempting to handle their own claims that end up damaging their cases.
If you suffered catastrophic injuries or your loved one was killed in an accident in South Carolina or North Carolina caused by another party’s negligence, make sure that you have qualified help with your legal claims. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Stewart Law Offices, LLC has offices in Beaufort, Rock Hill, Columbia, and Spartanburg in South Carolina, as well as Charlotte, North Carolina. You can have our lawyers review your case and help you understand all of your legal options when you call us or fill out an online contact form to set up a free consultation.
Types of Injuries Associated with Personal Injury Cases
People can suffer one or possibly multiple injuries in a serious injury accident. Commonly reported injuries accident victims sustain include:
Internal Organ Damage
Soft Tissue Injuries
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)
Spinal Cord Injuries
The severity of an injury determines many of the costs victims will incur. Serious injuries not only involve longer periods of hospitalization, but also include many follow-up procedures and rehabilitation that lead to massive medical bills.
Certain injuries can also impact a person’s ability to return to work. Some injury victims may be permanently unable to work because of their injuries. You should not be forced to struggle financially because of the limitations imposed on your life as a result of another party’s negligence.
People who have had their lives irreparably damaged by certain accidents can be entitled to compensation for their medical bills, lost wages, and other damages.
Personal Injury Claim Process
Most personal injury cases will follow a very similar timeline of events. Specific cases can involve their own unique complicating factors, but a claim will generally be handled as follows:
1. Initial Consultation
The first step in the personal injury claim process should be for a victim to meet with a personal injury attorney at Stewart Law Offices, LLC. Victims should arrange the meeting before speaking to any insurance company representatives for the other parties involved.
Our personal injury lawyers provide free initial consultations, so you should certainly take advantage of that. During the initial meeting, you will be able to tell the attorney about what happened, the injuries you have suffered, and the costs you are facing.
These meetings are usually beneficial for most people because they can get a much better understanding of the strength of their case and their legal options.
2. Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney
After a victim has met with personal injury lawyers, they will select the right one to handle their case. A person should work with the lawyer who they felt the most comfortable with and they have the highest confidence in. You may want to consider factors such as the amount of experience an attorney has and their record of verdicts and settlements in similar cases.
Our personal injury lawyers handle cases on a contingency fee basis, which involves an agreement in which the person does not pay an attorney fee unless and until they receive a monetary award. The attorney will then receive a percentage of this award.
During the initial consultation, a person should certainly inquire about what a lawyer’s fee will be. Another important consideration may be whether the attorney will cover court fees and other expenses relating to the case. If Stewart Law Offices, LLC obtains a settlement or verdict, our fees will represent a percentage of the award. We will then be reimbursed for any funds our firm expends on pursuing your claim.
3. Discovery and Fact-Finding
When you hire a personal injury lawyer, the attorney and their team of investigators and analysts will usually commence an independent investigation of your accident. The investigation will determine the cause of the accident and how your injuries occurred.
During the investigation, the team will also collect crucial evidence. Your attorney will likely also need to access your medical records during this process.
4. Negotiations and Mediation
After the attorney has obtained the necessary evidence, they will file a claim with the insurance company for the negligent party. In many cases, a lawyer will demand a specific amount to cover all of the damages that a victim has incurred and will incur because of the accident.
Most insurance companies refuse the initial demand, and this typically leads to lawyers negotiating with insurers for possible settlements. Insurers are often inclined to agree to a settlement because it can be costly to take a case to trial.
5. Filing a Lawsuit
When a settlement cannot be reached, the attorney may file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations becomes vital in this aspect, as the lawyer will have to file the lawsuit before the limitations period expires.
In some cases, the filing of a lawsuit alone can trigger an insurance company to become more willing to settle a case. In other cases, however, the insurer may dig in their heels and prepare to defend the case aggressively.
When a case does go to trial, the entire process unfolds over what could be a matter of several weeks, months, or possibly even years. Most trials involve five basic steps:
Step 1. Jury Selection
The process known as voir dire, which is French for “to speak the truth,” involves jurors being questioned by judges and attorneys. Jury selection affords a lawyer a valuable opportunity to gauge a jury’s familiarity with the type of accident involved as well as their attitudes towards the parties involved.
Step 2. Opening Statements
The opening statement is the attorney’s first impression on the jury. The statement should present jurors with a general theme of the case but should not be arguing the case. The opening statement is often effectively a retelling of a victim’s story, and it is intended to make a jury sympathize with the victim.
Step 3. Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
Both the plaintiff and the defendant will be given the opportunity to call witnesses. Both sides will also be given a chance to cross-examine those witnesses. The types of witnesses called will differ, depending on the case. Many motor vehicle accidents will involve testimony from witnesses, while qualified experts may be asked to testify in medical malpractice cases.
Step 4. Closing Arguments
The closing argument represents the lawyer’s final opportunity to communicate with a jury directly. The closing almost always involves asking a jury to return a verdict in their favor. The closing argument typically summarizes the strengths of a victim’s case as well as the weaknesses and flaws of the defense.
Step 5. Jury Deliberation/Verdict
After both sides have presented their cases, the jury then deliberates and reaches a verdict. The jury needs to consider several factors when determining its verdict. In addition to deciding whether a defendant is liable to a victim, the jury also awards damages in these cases.
Most personal injury cases are resolved through settlements before a verdict, but some cases do make it all the way through trial. It is essential to keep in mind that trial dates are often rescheduled because of judges’ schedules, so people should be prepared to be patient throughout the trial process.
Collecting Your Settlement
When a person wins a lawsuit in South Carolina or North Carolina, the judgment is valid for 10 years. The judgment still needs to be executed though, and a person needs to file a writ of execution with the court that is then delivered to the sheriff.
You will want an attorney for the handling of any writ of execution because defendants will often attempt to avoid liability by claiming certain exemptions. These cases can be further complicated when defendants do not own any assets.
In many cases, settlement negotiations with the insurance company or defendant may resume after the jury enters a verdict. The defendant may forgo appeals in exchange for a settlement.
When a settlement is reached at any stage of the process, the insurance company will typically send funds to the attorney. The firm will send the client the remaining funds after deducting attorney’s fees and other expenses. If we obtain a settlement or verdict, our fees will represent a percentage of the award. We will then be reimbursed for any funds our firm expends on pursuing your claim.
Common post-trial motions include motions for directed verdict, motions to set aside verdicts, motions for additur or remittitur, or motions for judgments rendered by juries. The South Carolina Judicial Department states that post-trial motions need to be filed within 10 days of judgment, except for motions for new trials based on new evidence which must be filed within one year of the discovery of new evidence.
When parties agree to fast-track jury trials in South Carolina, they may also decide to waive post-trial motions. The judges who oversee the trials also rule on post-trial motions.
Post-trial motions are especially common with defendants who have lost trials, as the motions are usually an attempt to reduce or eliminate the judgments rendered against the defendants. A defendant may file a post-trial motion to direct a verdict in which the defendant argues that the evidence indicates the defendants should have won and the jury’s determination was wrong, a motion to overturn the verdict and order a new trial, a motion to reduce the amount of damages awarded because they are excessive, or a motion to overturn the verdict because of a procedural error during the trial.
Post-trial motions are filed with courts that handled the trials. Some defendants in personal injury actions may also appeal the verdicts.
Appeals in South Carolina usually involve circuit court decisions being appealed to the South Carolina Court of Appeals. Any appeal of a South Carolina Court of Appeals decision could be heard by the Supreme Court of South Carolina if the court agrees to hear the appeal.
Civil cases involving $25,000 or more are handled in superior courts in North Carolina, and decisions are appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Similar to South Carolina, the Supreme Court of North Carolina has the discretion to hear cases appealed from all lower courts.
Appeals are not new trials or even retrials of cases. The purpose of an appellate court is to review a lower court’s handling of a case and possibly issue a decision either affirming or overruling that court’s decision based on whether the matter that is the subject of the appeal was handled properly in the appeal court’s determination.
How Stewart Law Offices, LLC Can Help
Stewart Law Offices, LLC has been helping clients since 1995. Our firm is dedicated to assisting people in South Carolina and North Carolina to hold negligent parties accountable for their misconduct. We fight to help victims seek justice.
Did you sustain serious injuries or was your loved one killed in an accident caused by another party’s negligence in South Carolina or North Carolina? You should contact Stewart Law Offices, LLC as soon as possible.
Our firm will work tirelessly to help you pursue all of the compensation you need and deserve. Call us or contact us online to have our attorneys provide a complete evaluation of our case during a free consultation.