When you’re injured and someone else is at fault, it’s common to want justice. Often this means getting compensation for both your medical costs and your pain and suffering.
However, it’s not as simple as suing the perpetrator no matter what happened. If your case has little or no merit, the court may throw it out. This would cost you time and money and gain you nothing.
Instead, take the time to understand personal injury lawsuits and make sure that you have a case that makes sense. Then, discover how much you can expect to recover and how long it might take.
Ready to dive in? Let’s go.
What are Personal Injury Lawsuits?
Personal injury law deals with cases that arise when one person suffers harm from an accident or injury, and someone else might be legally responsible for that harm.
Sometimes these legal cases are brought to court as a formal lawsuit. The person that was hurt files a case in civil court. The filing will allege that another person or entity acted carelessly in connection with the injury and owes damages.
Most of the time, though, the results of personal injury lawsuits are settlements of a certain amount of money. This saves both parties the cost of going to court. The settlement is negotiated by those involved and their attorneys.
There are many types of personal injury cases. Here are a few you might be involved in.
Car Accident Cases
If you were injured in a car accident that someone else caused, you have a reason to seek compensation from the other party. You can generally get a financial settlement or file a case against the driver and their insurance company.
Some states have “no-fault” car insurance laws, meaning that each driver collects from their own insurance unless the injuries are very serious. Learn more about what to do in a case with serious injuries today.
Animal owners are responsible for the actions of their pets. If someone else’s dog injures you, you can seek financial compensation.
Keep in mind that if you live in an area with a “one bite” rule, there may be limits to whether you can file. If the dog has never hurt anyone, you may not be able to hold the owner liable.
Slip and Fall Cases
Slip and falls are one of the most common personal injury cases in the U.S. If you are injured because you fell on someone’s property, determine if there was negligence. If they were careless or did not keep up their property, you may be owed damages.
Sometimes doctors make mistakes, and if those mistakes hurt you, you can seek financial damages. Medical malpractice cases can be very complex, so it’s important to work with a skilled personal injury lawyer with experience in medical cases.
Do You Have a Valid Personal Injury Case?
Before you file a lawsuit in civil court, you need to have a consultation with a personal injury lawyer to make sure you have a strong case. There are several standards that must be met.
The first standard is whether you suffered a personal injury above and beyond property damage. Keep in mind this isn’t just physical. You can claim damages for negative impacts on your body, mind, or emotions.
For instance, if there was a car accident and you’ve had severe anxiety about driving on that road ever since, you’ve suffered a personal injury.
Negligence or Carelessness of Another Party
Being hurt is no fun for everyone, but to have a personal injury case there has to be someone else responsible. Being angry about an accident isn’t enough. There has to be negligence or carelessness involved.
When someone is negligent, it means the accident or injury could have been prevented if they were more careful. This is what allows you to seek financial damages as compensation.
There are four elements your personal injury lawyer will use to prove negligence:
- The defendant had a legal duty to behave in a certain way toward you in those circumstances
- The defendant breached that duty by acting or failing to act in specific ways
- The action or inaction of the defendant was the legal cause of your injury
- You were injured or harmed as a result of the actions or inactions, and money damages can remedy the harm
If any of these four elements apply, you may have a sound case.
Finally, you have to have damages that can be financially compensated. For instance, the other party can pay your medical bills, give you money to compensate for emotional suffering, or replace wages you lost when you could not work due to the accident.
You can also claim financial damages for a reduction in your overall earning capacity, the need to make your vehicle and home handicap accessible, and more.
Sometimes the exact financial amount can be hard to determine if you’re dealing with damages like pain and suffering or a lower quality of life. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help.
How Much Can You Get From a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
One factor that will tell you if it’s worth your time to file a personal injury case is how much you can expect to recover.
The first question to ask is what kinds of direct harm did you suffer? Were you physically injured, or did you have emotional trauma and need counseling? How was your future impacted by the harm you suffered?
The financial numbers attached to these issues are called “compensatory damages” – they are intended to compensate you for direct harm you suffered. Sometimes these numbers can be very high, but the purpose is to help you resume life the way you were before the accident.
When the defendant’s carelessness or negligence was especially awful, the court can decide to add additional financial penalties to the case. These damages are awarded to you, but the purpose is to punish the defendant.
Depending on who injured you, the punitive damages can be extremely high in order to serve as a deterrent for the defendant. Most states have a cap on punitive damages in injury cases, however.
Are You At Fault in Any Way?
One limiting factor to how much you can recover in a personal injury case involves your own actions leading up and directly after the event. If the court finds that you contributed to the accident, even a small amount, your damage award can be reduced.
If you failed to take steps after the incident to keep the injuries from getting worse, your financial recovery may be limited as well. For instance, if you refused to see a doctor and it’s determined that would have substantially helped your injury, that could impact your award.
A Timeline: What to Expect From a Personal Injury Case
If you do decide to go forward with your personal injury case, it’s helpful to know what to expect. Here are the steps that will happen as you work through your claim.
Your Lawyer Investigates the Incident
The first thing your personal injury attorney will need is a complete understanding of what happened and what harm you suffered. Be sure to bring in all the medical information, including diagnoses, treatment, and bills.
It can take months for your attorney to thoroughly review the information, although if they determine you don’t have a workable case, they may be able to let you know fairly quickly.
Consideration of Out-of-Court Settlement
A settlement outside of court is usually the best option for everyone involved. If your attorney thinks this case is likely to be settled, they can make a demand of the other party’s lawyer. However, if the case involves permanent injury or death, they will likely take it straight to court.
If a settlement isn’t reached, filing in court is the next step. Usually, the case isn’t filed until you’re as physically and emotionally recovered as you’re going to get. This is because it’s impossible to know the full costs until treatment is finished.
Filing a Lawsuit
It’s vital to file your personal injury lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out. As soon as the lawsuit is filed, the pre-trial process begins. This process can take one to two years, depending on the complexity of the case.
This includes discovery by both sides so that everyone understands the full scope of the incident and the harm that you suffered. Witnesses will be formally questioned and deposed.
After the discovery period, the lawyers will again approach the idea of an out-of-court settlement. Generally, the defendant’s lawyer understands their chances in court, and it’s not good they will want to settle.
Finally, if the lawyers cannot reach a settlement, the case will go to trial. The trial may be very short or last more than a week. The court may delay or reschedule your trial because of the judge’s other duties, so don’t get frustrated.
When the trial is over, you will have a verdict and know the full outcome of your case.
Wrapping Up Personal Injury Law Basics
Now that you understand personal injury lawsuits and all that’s involved, you can more carefully consider whether you want to pursue a case. Your lawyer can help you make that decision.
Interested in more information about legal cases? Check out more of our legal articles today!