Personal injury law includes a vast array of cases. These cases include motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall claims, assault claims, product liability claims and wrongful death claims to list a few. A personal injury is term used for an injury to the body, mind or emotions, as opposed to an injury to property.
If you or a family member has suffered a personal injury as a result of the wrongful conduct of another, you may be entitled to seek recovery of compensatory damages which can include compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of earnings and future loss of earning capacity. Further, if the conduct is egregious, you may be able to recover punitive damages, which are intended to punish and discourage wrongful conduct.
The person or entity responsible for a personal injury is known as a “tortfeasor”. This person or entity will be held responsible for damages of the plaintiff if it can be proven that the person or entity was negligent. Generally a plaintiff must show:
- There was a duty of care owed to the plaintiff;
- The tortfeasor acted negligently or otherwise in violation of the applicable standard of care;
- Such deviation from the prevailing standard of care was the cause in fact of the injury; and
- that the plaintiff was injured or suffered damages.
In a personal injury lawsuit, it is the plaintiff’s burden to prove each element of the plaintiff’s case by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, plaintiff must prove that it is more likely than not that each of the factors set forth above existed under the facts of their case. Personal injury cases can be complex and the law limits the amount of time you have to pursue your claim.
What to do first
If emergency aid is needed, call 911 first! Then take pictures with your phone, get the names and contact information for any witnesses and everyone involved, and write down an account of what happened while it is fresh in your memory – and call us for an appropriate attorney.
Talk to a lawyer before you talk to the other sides’ insurance company!
No matter how nice or helpful their insurance person sounds, their job is to limit your claims against them as quickly as possible. Do NOT fill out any forms, sign anything, or accept any check without consulting your own attorney. If the other side’s insurance company is willing to offer you anything without being pressed, chances are they are hoping you don’t realize that you could actually be entitled to much more. Accepting a settlement usually closes the door on being able to collect any more, no matter how much worse your injuries turn out to be over time.
In any personal injury claim, you must be able to prove that you were harmed because of the negligent or malicious actions or omissions of another person, company, or corporation. Some accidents and injuries are just accidents – there is not always someone at fault. An attorney can help you assess what you can realistically expect for your injury, and help you decide whether to pursue it or not.
Have your facts ready – and don’t wait.
- When you call us for a referral, have the basic “who, what, where, when, why, and how” facts organized so you can explain clearly what happened and who the other parties are.
- When you speak with the attorney, have the names of the other parties and insurance companies, and an outline of what happened when.
- When you meet with the attorney, bring copies of any records – police reports, hospital bills and reports, insurance information, any correspondence with the other party or witnesses or your own insurance company – and the names and contact information of everyone involved, including the lawyer or insurance agent for the other parties, if you know them. Be able to sum up how much money the injury has cost you to date in care and lost income, and try to estimate how much more it may cost you in the future.
If someone else is more at fault for your injury than you are, you may make a claim against that person or business and their insurance company, if any. The type of accident and the cause of the accident may affect whether you are entitled to compensation, as in the following examples:
- Motor vehicle accidents: Fault or “negligence” is determined by traffic regulations and which driver’s carelessness contributed most to the accident and injuries, including your own conduct such as failure to use seatbelts.
- Commercial accidents (such as in stores): Injuries are compensable only if caused by an unsafe condition that the owner should have known of, appreciated, and corrected before the accident.
- Home/farm/apartment/recreation injuries: Renters, owners, or residents may be found liable for injuries they cause by negligent maintenance, oversight, or attacks by pets; however, property owners who permit others to use their land without charge for recreational purposes may be completely immune to any claim for unsafe conditions, however flagrant.
- Government employees and premises: Injuries caused by negligent public employees or unsafe conditions will be compensated only in limited circumstances and are subject to stringent notice and claim requirements. State, federal, and local governments are given broad latitude to determine most matters involving public safety, including the design and maintenance of roads, parks, and facilities.
- Workplace injuries: Injuries at work generally are covered by worker’s compensation benefits which compensate for medical expenses, lost wages, and permanent impairments, without regard to fault by anyone. If the accident was caused by someone other than the employer or a co-worker,a fault-based claim can be made that could include damages for pain and suffering in addition to the worker’s compensation benefits.
- Intentional injuries: Injuries inflicted on purpose by any means are not usually covered by the guilty party’s liability insurance, although the responsible party may be personally liable for such harm.
- Other accidents: More complicated rules determine if injuries caused by dangerous products, the accumulation of ice or snow, faulty professional services, or public utilities will be compensated. In addition, users of firearms, dog owners, and operators of restaurants, hotels, and public transportation may be liable for injuries they cause because the law imposes special responsibility for these hazards which your attorney can explain in more detail.