When you suffer an accidental injury, you will hear a lot of legal jargon, especially about personal injury. While you might assume it means an injury to a person, the definition is a bit more complex on the legal spectrum.
For legal purposes, a personal injury happens when a person or their family can file a lawsuit and obtain compensation when they suffer injuries due to the negligence of another person or entity. The injury can be intentional or unintentional, but it is vital to prove negligence and liability for a successful claim.
A lawsuit is a court process that holds negligent parties responsible for the harm they cause to someone else. A personal injury lawsuit is only one of many types of civil lawsuits.
You can file a personal injury lawsuit for physical injury to you or the death of a close family member. While a personal injury claim will include property damage, it will not be the basis of the claim.
By the end of the claim or lawsuit, you should receive payment for your losses. However, if the claim is unsuccessful, you can receive nothing. Unsuccessful claims result when the injured party cannot prove negligence, often without legal representation.
How does negligence work in personal injury law?
The most significant factor in personal injury cases is negligence, which means a person did not act carefully or reasonably and caused someone else’s injury. However, proving someone’s negligence is easier said than done.
You must provide evidence that:
- The other party had a duty to act reasonably to prevent injury under the circumstances
- They failed to abide by their duty
- Their failure resulted in your harm
- You incurred damages due to your injuries
Proving negligence is the key to a personal injury lawsuit.
What are the different personal injury cases?
People can suffer physical harm in many ways that fall under personal injury law.
The most common cases under the personal injury umbrella are:
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Slip and falls
- Nursing home abuse
- Defective product accidents
These are a few examples, but no matter how your injury happened, you should meet with a personal injury lawyer to discuss your options and see if you are eligible to file a lawsuit.
What damages can you get for your case?
In these cases, there are different types of damages you can obtain. Economic damages cover financial losses, which include medical bills, rehabilitative care, follow-up visits, mobility aids, and more. Some injuries will require victims to need a caregiver or assistance around the house. Your economic damage payment can account for that. Loss of income and earning potential is also substantial economic damage in serious injury claims.
Secondly, there are non-economic damages you can seek. These damages are for intangible losses, such as emotional distress, mental anguish, and pain and suffering. These damages are challenging to address because they are “invisible” and intangible. Your lawyer will look at the medical expenses and impact on your life to calculate an estimate. They can hire life care planners and other experts to calculate these damages when necessary.
In rare cases, there are punitive damage awards when the negligent party was extraordinarily egregious or intentional in their actions. The court imposes these damages to punish the negligent party for their actions. The other damages are to reimburse you for the losses you suffer.
Statutes and building your case
Depending on where you reside and the parties in the accident, there are various statutes to consider. Suppose you are filing a claim against a government agency; the deadline under the law will be shorter than going against a private motorist. Typically, a government claim will have a deadline of three to six months. Other personal injury claims can have statutes of limitations between one to four years.
You might be unsure of your deadline until a personal injury lawyer looks at your incident to determine who to file a claim against. Liability can affect your claim timeline, but you need an attorney to meet these deadlines and ensure you do not miss any compensation you deserve.
A lawyer can file a claim with preliminary facts, but they will need to build a solid case to garner the compensation you need. The lawyer must build a case immediately because witness testimony and evidence can fade or disappear. Deadlines are critical, but there are many other responsibilities that a lawyer will have when it comes to your case. Time is of the essence, so never wait to consult with a lawyer to begin the personal injury process.
What are the steps for these cases?
Deciding to file a claim and speaking with a lawyer is only part of the legal process, as there are many other steps when filing a lawsuit. While each lawsuit’s steps will vary slightly depending on specific facts, the general timeline is about the same.
Complaint filing and service to the defendant
Your attorney initiates the lawsuit by filing a personal injury complaint in the appropriate civil court. The document will outline what the plaintiff (you) allege the defendant (the other party) did wrong and how you suffered harm due to their actions. Further details will be in the complaint, including the specific legal relief (damages) you seek.
After filing, there will be a 30-day period when your attorney must locate and serve the other party. Serving a complaint means notifying the defendant of the complaint verifiably. They must have a physical delivery so they cannot claim they did not receive the papers and try to delay the process.
In most instances, the complaint and summons say the defendant must appear in court or respond 30 days after service. Many legal processes will not count weekends or holidays that can extend the service process.
After the defense receives notice of a civil complaint, they must find a lawyer before they need to appear in court. When there is an insurance policy covering the defendant, you will be going up against an insurance company that already has a legal department with a team of lawyers on standby to defend against lawsuits. You need a lawyer with experience taking on large corporate insurers and insurance defense attorneys.
When the defendant files an answer to your complaint, they will likely ask the court to dismiss your case. Your personal injury lawyer will need to file documents supporting the validity of your claim and challenging this motion to dismiss.
Discovery and pre-trial
Once both parties have legal representation and file their responses, they can begin the discovery and pre-trial process. Initially, the two parties will request evidence and information from each other. This can include depositions, interrogatories, requests for evidence production, and other complex legal tools.
Once everyone reviews the evidence, your lawyer may engage in settlement negotiations. They can send a demand package to the defense attorney asking for compensation for your damages if the evidence weighs in your favor. If the defendant agrees to settle the case for a fair amount at this time, you can sign a settlement agreement, and the lawsuit effectively ends. Your attorney will advise you whether a settlement agreement is favorable or not.
When negotiations fail, litigation may proceed. Both attorneys will meet with the judge to report progress and their intention to go to mediation or arbitration. Courts encourage these forms of alternative dispute resolution and sometimes even require them before a case can proceed to trial.
The parties will also set a date for trial, which might be a jury trial or a bench trial, which is only in front of a judge. While these dates get set, settlements will continue. Having a trial date set does not mean your claim will go to trial because the case can settle at any point before then.
During litigation, trial dates often continue to move back, and the defense can again ask the judge to throw out the case. As it gets closer to a possible trial date, the settlement efforts will likely ramp up on both sides. There will be mandatory conferences to discuss a possible settlement. The discovery and pre-trial phase will be the longest part of litigation, and you want to stay patient during the process.
Many personal injury lawsuits attempt to resolve in mediation. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that saves parties time, energy, and money when successful. Mediation involves a neutral third party listening to the arguments of both parties and facilitating discussion and compromise. The mediator will not make the final decision but help the two parties reach a solution. The outcome will only go into effect if both parties agree.
Your personal injury lawyer may or may not be present during mediation sessions. However, they will be there on the sidelines to advise whether a proposed mediation agreement is favorable or not. Never accept anything without first consulting with your lawyer, even if it seems reasonable at the time.
Parties cannot use what happens in mediation at trial or in other stages of the lawsuit. When there is no mediation resolution, the attorneys will walk away and pick up where they left off in litigation. The parties will split the mediation costs since they both agreed to this process. It is worth it to attempt mediation, as you might resolve without trial.
While your case may head to court, a settlement is the most likely outcome of a personal injury lawsuit. There is the possibility of settlement anytime during the entire process – you can even settle before filing a complaint.
The process can go faster when you have a reputable personal injury lawyer. Many insurance companies will be more willing to offer the necessary settlement amount or engage in good-faith negotiations if they know you have high-quality representation.
Sometimes, the insurance company will refuse to make a fair offer, and you should not accept anything less than you deserve. The right settlement is critical to your recovery and future – you must get what you need to move on from these tragic injuries and losses. The lawsuit will proceed if you do not receive an acceptable settlement offer.
When you have a significantly larger claim or one that cannot resolve without trial, it is time to go to court. Personal injury trials last days or weeks but typically do not go beyond a month. The primary goal of the judge or jury is to determine who was at fault and what the losses were.
Once they establish liability for your injuries, the judge and jury decide how much the defendant should pay for damages. A decision is set in stone unless either party files an appeal. When there is an appeal, it will extend the process significantly.
Call a personal injury attorney today!
The lawsuit process is complex, and you will need an advocate in your corner who knows how the entire process works. Some injury victims make the mistake of handling their claims independently, but they are unfamiliar with how far the claim will go and soon realize they do not have the skills or resources to get the payment they need for their losses.
When you have an injury, you should remain focused on medical treatment and adjusting to life with new limitations. Always allow a trusted personal injury lawyer to address your legal issues.
Do not trust just anyone with your future – call a local personal injury lawyer today for your free case evaluation.