If you or a loved one has been injured by another individual or business, you are undoubtedly facing a number of difficult issues:
- How will I pay my medical bills?
- Does my insurance cover these injuries?
- Am I due compensation for these injuries?
- Do I need an attorney?
You are not alone. These are all valid and common concerns for a personal injury claim. This ultimate guide to personal injury law provides an overview designed to help you understand how to best resolve your issue and hopefully receive compensation for your injuries.
Common Personal Injury Claims
There are a variety of ways to make a legal claim for your personal injuries. Anytime you are wrongly injured at the hands of another person or business, there may exist a personal injury claim. The list below is not comprehensive, and a skilled personal injury lawyer will be able to determine whether or not your injury can support a personal injury lawsuit. Some common examples include:
- Car Accidents. Given all of the vehicles on the road, it should come as no surprise that car accidents spark most personal injury claims.
- Medical Malpractice. Another common claim, medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or healthcare professional fails to provide component treatment.
- Toxic Tort. This is a specific sort of personal injury, where exposure to a certain chemical caused the plaintiff’s disease or injury.
- Slip and Fall. Slip and fall cases are probably the most notorious personal injury lawsuit. In these cases, the injured party is suing a property owner for not maintaining his or her premises in a safe condition.
- Assault, Battery, and other Intentional Torts. A person can be liable for assaulting or injuring another person, whether intentional or accidental.
- Dog Bites. A dog owner is usually responsible for injuries caused by his or her canine. Dog bite laws vary from state to state.
- Defamation: Libel, and Slander. Defamation of character via libel or slander rests on the premise that a person can suffer injury to his or her reputation through the spreading of falsehoods.
First Steps after the Injury
Immediately after the accident, your first action should be to make sure everyone receives the medical attention he or she needs. Any emergency situations should be handled immediately.
Once everyone is safe, it is important to document the accident. You can speak with witnesses, take photographs of the scene and surrounding areas, and retain copies of any medical bills or expenses you incur in addressing your injuries. Documenting the injury will help refresh your memory of the incident down the road and also give you a head start when if you choose file a lawsuit.
You should also contact your insurance company. Even if you do not plan on filing a claim, you should notify your insurance provider to protect any future claims and to determine whether or not your immediate medical expenses will be paid out of pocket.
Why You Shouldn’t Accept the First Offer
When you file a personal injury claim, you will likely deal with an insurance company and a claims adjuster. Sometimes you will deal with the insurance provider of the person who injured you, or you may be filing a claim through your own insurance. In either case, you should be wary of accepting the first offer you receive.
Your claims adjuster’s job is to help you with the filing and settling of your claim. However, their interests are not necessarily aligned with yours, because they work for the insurance provider, and the provider wants you to settle your claim for as little money as possible. The adjuster is expecting you to be upset, confused, and stressed after your injury and uses the opportunity to lowball you in the hopes you take the first offer.
Another tactic your insurance company will use is to stall and delay settlement discussions. Insurance companies know that lawsuits and trials can take years, and will hold out long enough for you to decide you can’t wait any longer for compensation. If you really are in need of the money, accepting a lower settlement versus waiting for a jury award is a discussion you should have with an attorney.
What Is Your Claim Worth?
One of the most important steps in approaching your personal injury case is to determine just how much your claim is worth.
Medical bills and costs associated with your injury are the easiest portion of your claim to quantify. How long was your hospital stay and how much did it cost? How expensive are your prescriptions and treatments? Did you miss work and lose out on salary? All of these aspects of your injury have direct cost to you and are quite easy to prove in court or during settlement negotiations.
The harder part of your claim is putting a dollar value on trauma you suffered and the emotional distress that persists as a result. If you have to see a therapist for your emotional distress, you can use the cost of these sessions as a quantifying marker for your pain. A skilled lawyer will be able to paint a more “vivid” picture of your emotional suffering that resonates with the other party or a jury. The more sympathetic your situation, the more likely you are to receive a higher award.
How Will the Defendant Fight Your Claim?
If you choose to file a lawsuit, you can expect a vigorous defense from the other party. Personal injury awards or settlements can be costly, so the defendant will not simply cave and give you all the compensation you seek. Below are some defenses you can expect to encounter:
- Plaintiff’s comparative fault. Depending on where you live, your own fault or negligence in the accident can be used as a total or partial defense to your personal injury claim. If you share the blame in the accident, your reward can be reduced by the amount of your fault, or eliminated entirely if you were more at fault than the defendant. You attorney can help you assess your level fault and how it will affect your case.
- You assumed the risk. If the accident occurred during an inherently dangerous activity (i.e., extreme sports), or you signed a waiver, the defendant will claim that you assumed the risk of the activity and therefore your claim is barred.
- You were already injured/sick. If you were already inured or sick prior to the accident, you reward can be eliminated or reduced. You may be able to argue that the accident exacerbated your injury/illness and that the defendant is responsible for the increase in harm.
These are some of the more common defenses to personal injury lawsuits. You attorney should expect and prepare for these defenses and any other the defendant might come up with.
Why You Should Hire an Attorney
Many people balk at the notion of hiring a lawyer, either because they believe they will be fairly compensated through insurance, or because they believe they cannot afford to hire an attorney. However, both of these concerns are misplaced, and an experienced personal injury attorney can help you receive the compensation you deserve.
As discussed above, your insurance company, or the other party’s insurance company, will likely play hardball with you in hopes that you will take a lower amount or forego the claim altogether. If you hire a personal injury attorney, he or she will be experienced in dealing with insurance companies and battling back against their lowball offers. If anything, once you hire an attorney, the insurance company will know that you are serious about pursuing your claim and will start offering more reasonable settlements.
Another reason people shy away from hiring a lawyer is for the fear that they cannot afford to hire one. However, in personal injury matters, many attorneys will take your case on a contingent basis. When a lawyer takes your case on a contingent basis, he or she will be paid a portion of your settlement or award and will only be paid if your claim is successful. Please note that not all personal injury lawyers use contingent fee arrangements. After discussing the merits of your case and assessing its possibility of success, you and your lawyer can reach a different method of compensation.
Now that your concerns with hiring an attorney have been assuaged, you should consider all of the reasons you should hire an attorney when you have been wrongly injured.
- Lawyers offer full services. Not only will your personal injury lawyer negotiate and litigate your case, he or she can file all necessary paperwork, investigate the particulars of your case, hire expert witnesses, and see the case through to its completion.
- Using a lawyer ensures a higher reward/settlement. It is generally accepted that cases handled by attorneys recover a higher reward than those cases negotiated by the plaintiff alone. Of course, this is all contingent on your case being successful.
- Lawyers can navigate difficult legal issues. The law is an ever-evolving beast, and any personal injury lawyer will keep abreast of changes that can affect your case, both positively and negatively. Trying to fight for your compensation on your own is going to be an uphill battle.
If you have been injured through the fault of another person or business, don’t hesitate to seek help and representation from an experienced personal injury lawyer. Contacting a lawyer early on in the process ensures you protect your interests and gain some peace of mind in knowing that a professional is handling your case.