Personal Injury, General - An Overview
If you have suffered a personal injury, you may be entitled to compensation for your injury. Legal responsibility, called "liability," revolves around the simple fact that most injuries happen because someone was careless or "negligent." Even if you believe you may have partly caused your own injury, in most states you can still get some compensation from anyone else who was also careless and partly responsible for your injury.
There are several factors that affect the potential success and value of a personal injury claim. Such factors include the ability to prove the fault of another for your injury and the nature and extent of your injuries. If you suspect you may have a legal claim, you should contact an attorney for an evaluation of your case. Personal injury attorneys are experienced with cases like yours, and can tell you at the outset whether it is worthwhile to pursue legal action. If you are unlikely to prevail, your attorney will tell you so, and you will not need to incur the time and expense of pursuing an unpromising claim.
In pursuing personal injury claims, attorneys work with investigators and experts in specialized areas, who can skillfully investigate the technical and medical aspects of your case. More importantly, an attorney can work through the maze of paperwork necessary to resolve your claim so that you can get on with your life.
Steps You Can Take Now
There are several steps you can take to increase your chances of recovery, and increase your potential overall recovery, in a personal injury case, even before you meet with an attorney. Such steps include:
- writing down as much as you can about the accident or injury itself, your injuries and any other losses (such as wages) you've suffered as a result of the accident
- making notes of conversations that you have with people involved in the accident or the injury claim
- preserving evidence of who caused the accident and what damage was done by collecting physical evidence and taking photographs
- locating people who witnessed the accident and who might be able to help you prove your case
- notifying anyone you think might be responsible for your injuries of your intention to file a claim for your injuries, especially if a government agency or employee may be involved.
How Much is Your Personal Injury Claim Worth?
Determining how much certain injuries are worth is a critical aspect of any injury claim. It is also the part of a claim about which it is most difficult to generalize; the amount depends on your very particular circumstances. A personal injury attorney can be more objective about your case than you can, and will not make a rash decision. Where you may be tempted, for instance, to go for a quick payout, your attorney may counsel you that it is in your best interests to wait for a more appropriate offer. Lawyers are used to working with insurance companies, and will not be confused by their tactics or feel pressured to settle for an unsatisfactory amount. Personal injury attorneys work hard to reach the best settlements for their clients, as early in the litigation process as possible. If a trial becomes necessary, a personal injury lawyer can zealously represent you in court and work toward achieving the best possible jury verdict in your favor.
In assessing the value of your claim, an attorney will consider everything you have suffered as a result of your injury. Usually, a person who is liable for an injury must pay the injured person for:
- medical care and related expenses
- income lost because of the accident, because of time spent unable to work or undergoing treatment for injuries
- permanent physical disability or disfigurement
- loss of family, social and educational experiences, including missed school or training, vacation or recreation, or a special event
- emotional damages, such as stress, embarrassment, depression or strains on family relationships for example, the inability to take care of children, anxiety over the effects of an accident on an unborn child, or interference with sexual relations, and
- damaged property.
Also, the following guidelines usually apply:
- The more painful the injury, the higher the potential damages you may recover
- The more invasive and longlasting the medical treatment, the higher potential damages you may recover
- The more obvious the medical evidence of the injury, the higher potential damages you may recover
- The longer the recovery period, the higher potential damages you may recover
- The more serious and visible any permanent effect of the injury, the higher potential damages you may recover.
How Will Fault for My Injury Be Determined?
The extent of every party's fault in causing your injury is the most important factor affecting how much you are likely to receive for your personal injury claim. Determining fault for an accident is not an exact science. But in most claims, your attorney will at least have a good idea whether another person was entirely at fault, and the extent, if any, that you were at fault. Whatever that rough percentage of your fault might be 10%, 50%, 75% is the amount by which the damages total will be reduced to arrive at a final settlement or award figure.
Various rules of fault apply in different types of personal injury actions. Here are some examples of liability rules in different types of actions:
- Suppose you are injured in a store can you recover damages from the store? It depends on the facts of the case. Storeowners must keep their premises reasonably safe for customers, inspecting and discovering any dangerous conditions. They also must keep all aisles clear and properly maintained. A judge or jury will look at whether the owner was aware of the condition that caused your injury and how long it had existed. A judge or jury will also look at your conduct in relation to the condition.
- If you've been injured by a dangerous consumer product, you may have an easier time recovering compensation for your injuries than those who are injured in other ways. "Product liability" the legal rules concerning who is responsible for defective or dangerous products is different from ordinary injury liability law, and this set of rules sometimes makes it easier for an injured person to recover damages. For several reasons, the law has developed a doctrine known as "strict liability," that allows a person injured by a defective or unexpectedly dangerous product to recover compensation from the maker or seller of the product without showing that the manufacturer or seller was actually negligent.
- Many thousands of people are injured each year some very seriously when they slip or trip and fall on a dangerous floor, a flight of stairs or a rough patch of ground. There is no precise way to determine when someone else is legally responsible for something on which you slip or trip. Each case turns on whether the property owner acted carefully so that slipping or tripping was not likely to happen and whether you were careless in not seeing or avoiding the thing that caused you to fall.
- Automobile accident claims are by far the most common type of personal injury case in our court system today. Except in those states where legislation has been passed doing away with fault as an issue (no-fault laws), these cases are litigated under general negligence principles. The injured plaintiff is required to prove that the defendant was negligent, that the negligence caused the accident, and that the accident caused the plaintiff's injuries. As with other types of accidents, figuring out who is at fault in a traffic accident is a matter of deciding who was negligent. In many cases your instincts will tell you that a driver, cyclist or pedestrian acted carelessly, but not what rule or rules that person violated. Your case can be strengthened if you find some "official" support for your conclusion. Your attorney will look to a number of sources to help you determine who was at fault for your accident, such as police reports, state traffic laws, and witnesses.
There are many different types of personal injury actions, and several theories of fault that may apply in a given case. Discussing your case with a personal injury attorney is the best way to have a thorough evaluation of the likelihood of success if you were to bring a claim for your injuries, and of the potential value of your case. In light of the deadlines imposed under state and federal law for the filing of personal injury actions, meeting with an attorney sooner rather than later if you think you might have a claim is always recommended.