Every year, millions of Americans are injured due to the intentional or unintentional actions of another person or entity. Whether it’s a car accident, a wrongful death, an injury due to an unsafe product or an assault, it’s likely that at one time in your life you will suffer personal injury or loss. With that in mind, it’s important to understand the immediate steps you should take to ensure that you receive compensation for your injuries.

If you are the victim of personal injury, you can seek compensation for your personal loss or damages. If you are the victim of a crime and you are injured, you may also file a civil claim against the alleged defendant even if the state decides not to pursue a criminal case against them.

Before filing a claim, however, there are several steps to take. Let’s take a closer look at the process.

1. Seek proper medical care.

The first step following any type of physical injury is to seek proper medical care. For example, if you have been involved in a car accident, you need to immediately see a doctor and determine the extent of your injuries. If you did not suffer any physical injury but your property was damaged, you need to have the damages assessed.

It’s important to note that if you are not injured or you did not suffer any loss, regardless of the negligent actions of the defendant, you will not be legally able to file an injury claim.

2. Collect evidence for the claim.

After seeking proper medical care, you will need to collect all of the evidence related to the accident. Information to collect includes medical bills, repair estimates, inventory of damaged property, lost work and wages, information about who caused the accident, a list of witnesses, and witness statements.

3. Determine if your injuries are covered by insurance.

Many injuries are covered by insurance. For example, if you are injured in a car accident, the compensation that you receive generally comes from either your own insurance company or the insurance company of the offender. In fact, car accident laws in each state will determine who pays for the accident and whether you have the legal right to sue for your car accident injuries.

Other types of insurance may also cover personal injuries. For example, if you are injured at a business, the business may have property insurance to cover your injuries. Other personal injuries, however, may not be covered. If you are not sure about whether you can collect from an insurance company, or if you have tried to collect but the insurance company is not offering a fair settlement, talk to a personal injury lawyer.

4. Talk to a personal injury lawyer.

The fourth step after a personal injury is to talk to a personal injury lawyer. Not only can a personal injury lawyer help you determine if you have a valid personal injury case, but they can also determine the amount of compensation that you can expect to win, help you negotiate a personal injury settlement, and answer any questions that you have about your case.

5. Determine if there are alternatives to filing an injury claim.

Although discussing your case with an attorney is important, filing an injury claim may not always be the best decision. For example, some cases may be settled out of court, you may decide that a case is not worth pursuing, or you may realize that the negligent party is insolvent and will never be able to pay you.

You may also decide to resolve your issues out of court. For example, if a neighborhood child broke your window, it may be simpler to get an estimate for the window repair and have a civil conversation with the child’s parents, asking them if they would pay for the damages. If they refuse, you may not need to hire a lawyer to file a case. Instead, it’s probably simpler to take the case to a small claims court.

6. Initiate and complete the lawsuit.

If after discussing your case with a lawyer and evaluating your alternatives, you decide that you need to file a civil injury claim, you will need to determine the proper state court in which to file your claim. For example, specialized cases may be filed in certain courts (i.e., family law courts, probate courts or landlord-tenant courts), and other cases may be filed in courts depending on the type of remedy that you need or the amount of money involved in the case.

Next, you will need to file the first document in a lawsuit, generally referred to as the complaint or the petition. The complaint will identify who is involved in the case, your legal claims, the facts of the claim, and what you want the defendant to do to provide relief for your injury or loss.

After the complaint has been filed, the court will issue an order, referred to as the summons. The summons notifies the defendant they have been sued and gives them the details of the case. The defendant has a specific time period in which to file an answer and respond. Next, you will participate in the discovery phase of the case.

Keep in mind that before or after the lawsuit is filed, you may be asked to accept a settlement offer. In fact, a settlement offer may be made at any time. You may also be required or asked to participate in mediation. If an agreement is not reached, however, your case may go to trial and a decision will be made by a jury or by a judge. If the judge or jury rules in your favor, you will receive compensation for your injuries or loss. If not, you may have the legal right to appeal the court’s decision.