Time is a precious commodity, so finding efficiencies in your work is a must. Although all personal injury cases have different facts and nuances, you can streamline the process of organizing your personal injury cases with an easy checklist.
A checklist is helpful because it can be placed in the front of the client's file, so that each task can be checked off as completed. That way, with a quick glance at the file, you can see what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done, without flipping through the entire file.
Implementing a streamlined process will keep your cases organized, and will make each subsequent task easier as the case progresses.
While practitioners may have their own preferences on how to organize their case, here are 16 steps to help you get started with your own personal injury checklist:
1. Preparing the Client for the First Meeting
Prior to the first meeting, the client should be instructed to bring any documents related to their case, such as: the police report, medical records, bills, insurance information, the declaration page of their auto policy, wage statements, repair estimates, rental car charges, correspondence, notes, and photographs. This will save unnecessary lag time waiting for the client to forward this information after the meeting.
2. Meet with the Client / Sign Retainer Agreement / Fill Out a Personal Injury Questionnaire and Authorizations
The first in-person meeting with the client is essential to establish personal rapport, explain the process, set the client's expectations, and obtain information about the client's claim.
First, explain the terms of the Retainer Agreement, and answer any questions that the client may have. It is important to explain, among other things, how fees are calculated and contingency versus hourly fees. Set expectations -- there may be aspects of the case that will cause challenges, difficult facts, liability issues, or liens that may cause delays in the case or disbursement of settlement funds. If clients are aware of these issues and prepared at the outset, it will make dealing with these issues easier later on in the case.
Have a form that contains essential questions about a personal injury claim: client's background, employment, the incident, injuries, medical treatment, lost wages, property damage, other damages, medical and automobile insurance, responsible party information, police report, witnesses, any prior or subsequent accidents, and lien notices.
During this meeting, walk through the questions and write out the answers. Drawing a diagram of the incident will also be helpful in understanding what happened. All of this information will be essential to understanding the case, its strengths and weaknesses, and will enable you to prepare a clear and detailed demand letter.
In addition, have the client sign any necessary authorizations, i.e. an insurance authorization, wage loss authorization, and a HIPPA-compliant authorization to obtain medical records. Getting these documents signed at the initial meeting will allow you to request records without delay.
To further streamline the process, keep a folder that contains blank forms such as the questionnaire and authorizations, so that you can grab it and go when you meet with a new client.
3. Obtain Copies of Insurance Cards
Obtain copies of any auto or health insurance cards, including Medicare and or Medicaid. Not only will you need these if the case reaches discovery, but they will be extremely helpful to have if there are any issues with coverage, or with submitting medical bills to insurance.
4. Send Client a Follow-Up Letter Explaining the Process and their Responsibilities
After the initial meeting, send a follow up letter to the client. Thank them for retaining your office. Explain their responsibilities during their case, i.e. keep you informed of any changes or developments, keep and provide you with any additional records, document any further or ongoing damages or consequences resulting from the incident, to speak only with you regarding the case, not to sign anything without consultation, and to be aware that the 3rd party insurer may investigate them. Additionally, in this digital world, it may be prudent to advise your client that the 3rd party insurer may monitor any social media accounts that the client has. However, know your ethical obligations in this regard; deleting social media can result in a "spoliation of evidence" instruction.
I also like to explain the issue of recovering the reasonable value of their damages, which in California, has been the subject of much dispute, with a recent case holding that client cannot recover more than the plaintiff or their insurer paid on their medical bills, or the amount that remains owing, as opposed to the amount charged by a hospital or medical provider. See, Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc. (2011) 52 Cal.4th 541, 566.
It may also be prudent to once again explain the concept of liens to the client, and their responsibility to reimburse their health insurer for amounts it pays on the client's behalf that are related to the accident. For a more in-depth discussion, see our article 7 Steps to Approaching Lien Claims in Personal Injury Cases.
Underscore that there may be many responsibilities involved in pursuing their case, but their timely cooperation will greatly assist in resolving their claim.
5. Send a Letter of Representation to 3rd Party Insurer
Send the 3rd party insurer a letter of representation, along with a copy of a signed authorization from your client. Advise the insurer to direct all communication to your office. Make sure to include their policy number, claim number, name of their insured, name of your client, and the date of the incident on the letter and all subsequent communication.
6. Send a Letter of Representation to Client's Insurer
Send a letter of representation to your client's own insurer, along with a signed authorization. There may be medical pay available under the policy, which you will want to use to pay your client's medical bills or reimburse your client for out-of-pocket expenses. Additionally, if there is uninsured or underinsured coverage available under the policy, reserve the right to pursue these amounts as required under the policy.
7. Request All Records, Keep Chart of What Was Requested and Received
Send letters, along with signed medical authorizations, to all providers, requesting a copy of their medical and billing records. Do this as soon as possible, because without the records, you cannot begin the demand letter. Request any other records that may be appropriate for your case that you have not already received, such as the police report, wage loss records, and/or property damage estimates.
Keep a chart of what was requested and what has been received. That way, it will be easy to check on what records remain outstanding should you need to follow up with providers.
8. Contact Witnesses
Contacting witnesses early in the case will be important because their memories will be fresh. You can also determine early on, if there will be particular challenges to your client's case or inconsistencies that will need to be addressed.
Obtaining a statement may also be beneficial, and depending on the whether the value of the case merits it, it may be worth it to have an investigator obtain a recorded statement.
9. Create a Chart of Treating Providers, Charges, Amounts Paid, Amounts Outstanding, and Possible Lien Claims
Create a chart of the treating providers, the amount each provider charged, the amount paid to date, any amounts outstanding, and any possible lien claims. This will be important in keeping track of your client's medical damages that will be claimed, for assisting your client in making sure all of their bills get paid, and in keeping track of any possible lien claims that will need to be settled, once your client's case settles.
10. Submit All Outstanding Balances to Med Pay or Health Insurance
Medical bills are not always correctly billed by providers, amounts may remain outstanding, or your client may (unfortunately) simply assume that they do not have to deal with their bills since someone else was at fault.
However, it is important to get these bills paid either through med pay or health insurance, because these claims for reimbursement will be far easier to negotiate than trying to negotiate with a medical provider's office.
11. Send a Letter of Representation to All Providers with Outstanding Balances or Lien Claims
Building rapport with lien claimants early will greatly assist with settling their claims as the case nears settlement. Sending lien claimants a letter of representation with a signed authorization will ensure that they only contact your office regarding their claim, they can document their file, they will know that you are on top of the case and organized, and it will also create a paper trail in the event that a dispute arises regarding the lien claim. Continue to keep lien claimants apprised as the case progresses.
12. Send a Letter of Representation to Medicare and/or State Medicaid Agency as Appropriate
There are statutory obligations to apprise Medicare and any State Medicaid Agency of any possible lien claim, and often there are only a certain number of days within which to do so. It is important, therefore, to send this letter, with a signed authorization, and any other required paperwork, as soon as possible.
For additional information regarding Medicare liens, see our article: How to Deal with Medicare Liens in Personal Injury Cases.
13. Prepare the Demand Letter Draft and Send to Client for Review
Prepare a concise and detailed demand letter using the information provided by your client, and the records that you obtained from providers.
For additional direction on preparing your demand letter, see our article: Ten Tips for Writing an Effective Demand Letter.
Before sending it to the adjuster, be sure to email a copy to your client so that they can review it. Oftentimes, reading the draft demand letter can trigger clients to remember additional details that were not included in any records. Additionally, it is important to discuss with them your recommendations for the demand amount, and to have them be a part of the process of preparing the demand letter.
14. Send the Demand Letter to 3rd Party Insurance Adjuster
Send a copy of the demand letter to the 3rd party insurance adjuster as soon as possible. Make sure it is clear, complete, organized, and includes all the records as tabbed exhibits. If your client's treatment is prolonged, provide the adjuster with updates, so that they can properly set their reserves.
15. Calendar to Follow-Up with the Adjuster and the Client in 30 Days and Respond to All Communication Within 24 Hours
Be sure to calendar a follow up with the adjuster and the client in 30 days. Following up communicates to both of them that you are organized and on top of the file.
Additionally, it is a good rule of thumb to respond to any communication within 24 hours. Even if you are in trial or the most long-winded deposition of your life, be sure that you send a short email or have your assistant or associate call to advise that you will be in contact shortly. Often breakdowns in negotiations or client satisfaction occur because of a lack of communication, which can easily be avoided.
16. File the Complaint As Necessary Well Before the Statute of Limitations
Any case management calendaring program can provide you with upcoming deadlines including the statute of limitations. If the case has not settled, be sure to file the complaint well in advance of the statute of limitations. If you are still in the middle of settlement negotiations, but the deadline is approaching, file anyway, and send the adjuster a letter with a file-endorsed copy of the complaint, explaining that you needed to file due to the statute of limitations but that you are hopeful that the matter can still be resolved by way of settlement.
Personal injury cases can have a lot of moving parts, and keeping track of everything can be a challenge. With many cases, it can quickly become quite difficult to remain organized. But, if you have a streamlined process in place that you follow, this will go a long way to establishing your credibility, ensuring your client's satisfaction, and ultimately, enabling successful case resolutions.