What is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
A personal injury lawsuit is a civil lawsuit where the victim has suffered an injury due to someone else’s negligence. In a civil lawsuit, the victim is entitled to recover money, also known as damages, for costs like medical expenses and lost wages, as well as non-economic damages like pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
For someone who is not familiar with the legal field, personal injury lawsuits can be very confusing. And for many of our clients, their personal injury case is the first time they have ever been involved in a legal battle. The attorneys at Hach & Rose, LLP will walk you through every step of the process.
In order to fully understand what a personal injury lawsuit is, there are some important terms and definitions you should know. In this article, we will review the essential elements of a personal injury case as well as the terms you’re likely to encounter during the process.
What does “personal injury” mean?
“Personal injury” is the legal term for an injury to the body, mind, or psyche, and it differentiates the injury from destruction of property. Personal injury lawsuits refer to a tort lawsuit in which the plaintiff has suffered harm through the negligence of someone else. When you suffer harm or injury and someone else is at fault for that injury, you may file a personal injury lawsuit. Personal injury cases are filed with great need on behalf of the victim to cover lost wages, medical bills, pain, and suffering. Often these cases highlight a danger that should be corrected to protect others.
What are the outcomes for my case?
There are many outcomes that are possible for a personal injury lawsuit. For most cases, one of these situations will occur after your lawsuit is filed.
- Lawsuit: A private individual, known as the “plaintiff”, files a civil complaint against the individual, municipality, or business at fault, known as the “defendant.” The plaintiff will argue that the defendant acted negligently, and their actions resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.
- Settlement: Often, personal injury cases do not go to trial and are settled out of court. The two parties concerned will meet, along with their attorneys, to work out details. These agreements most commonly take the form of a negotiation, followed by a written agreement in which both sides consent to take no further legal action. This usually results in the injured plaintiff receiving an amount of money in exchange for ending their lawsuit.
- Trial: A trial is a proceeding in court where your case is decided in front of a jury of your peers. In New York State Court, 5 out of 6 jurors must agree to have a jury verdict. Filing a lawsuit does not necessarily mean that you’ll be going to trial. A settlement can be reached at any time, and even once the lawsuit is filed a settlement is still a likely possibility. Personal injury cases do not typically go to trial, but it’s always an option.
- Appeal: If your case goes to trial and you don’t win, all hope is not lost. You can appeal the court’s ruling. Your attorney will need to prove that there are grounds to appeal the case, which typically means that there was a fault with the initial decision.
Many personal injury cases will result in a settlement. Even after your case has gone to trial, a settlement is still a very likely possibility. It is important to note that not all personal injury firms will take your case to trial! Some will only settle out of court. Even though a settlement is often preferable, as it is faster and less complicated, you should always choose a personal injury firm that has the ability to take your case to trial should you need to. Even if you never need to go to court, the firms that go to trial will be known to the insurance companies and garner more respect. They will know which firms they can offer less money to, knowing they won’t go to trial, and which firms will take them to court if their settlement amount is too low. This is to your advantage and is a critical factor when choosing your attorney.
What are economic damages?
Whatever the outcome of your personal injury case, the resulting funds you are awarded will be known as damages. Damages will cover a myriad of costs. Some are easy to put a dollar amount on, like medical bills, lost wages, transportation to appointments, and any related physical therapy. These are known as economic damages.
As you go through your case, it is important that you keep a record of all expenses related to your injury. Medical bills, receipts from medications, parking fees at the hospital, any expense at all that you incurred while dealing with your injury. Additionally, keep track of how much time you needed to take off from work. You can simply request documentation from your employer. Retaining a record of all these expenses will be crucial when your case is complete and your award is calculated.
What are non-economic damages?
Some damages are more difficult to define, and that includes non-economic claims such as pain and suffering. Pain and suffering refers to any anguish as a result of your accident. Non-economic claims relate to what’s known as “lost capacity of enjoyment of life,” meaning that somehow your life is different after your accident and you’ll be dealing with the effects for a very long time. For example, it is important for your attorney to understand the things you enjoyed before your accident so that they can describe what you have lost.
If you were able-bodied before your accident, and now you have a permanent injury that prevents you from performing these activities, this would constitute lost enjoyment of life. If you were previously a contractor, and now your back injury prevents you from picking up anything that weighs more than 10 pounds, this is a serious and permanent change to your daily life. You can receive economic funds to cover your medical bills, but you’ll never get back the joy of picking up your grandchild again. It’s these kinds of permanent, intangible losses that pain and suffering covers.
How much will I be awarded from my case?
When it comes to determining how much you will be compensated in a personal injury case, permanency is key. All personal injury cases are difficult, painful, and potentially traumatic, but if your life will be forever altered after your accident, this will be a huge determining factor in the amount you receive in damages. It is vital that your attorney hire appropriate medical experts to fully prove your damages.
Are you now unable to perform the same career you were in before your accident? Will you suffer permanent and lasting pain? Or will you fully recover in six months, with intensive therapy? These are the factors that will be used to determine the funds you are awarded.
What is the statute of limitations to file a personal injury lawsuit?
There are a few things you should keep in mind when you have been injured and are considering a personal injury case. First, you have a limited amount of time to file your lawsuit, called a statute of limitations. From the moment you are injured, or discover the injury, you need to choose a law firm and begin the process. If you wait too long, you may forfeit your right to sue. Generally speaking, the statute of limitations is determined by the state. In New York, you have three years to file a lawsuit for your injury (you can check out a list of statutes here). However, if you are filing against a municipality, the statute will be much shorter. If you are filing against the City of New York, you must give notice within 90 days of your accident, and you will have further filing deadlines after that.
To know how long the statute of limitations is, you need to know who caused the accident, or the party at fault. Sometimes this is very obvious, but often it’s not. The party at fault could encompass a lot of things; it could be an individual, a municipality, or a business. It can be difficult to figure out who is at fault for your accident. For example, if you’ve tripped over a broken sidewalk in front of a supermarket, do you hold the business or the city at fault? It will depend on who maintains the sidewalk, and your personal injury attorney will be able to determine the party at fault.
Of course, there’s no reason you would know the statute of limitations or the party at fault for your claim. This is why it’s crucial to seek the advice of a personal injury attorney as soon as you can. You don’t want to lose time and find out that by the time you contacted an attorney your claim is already invalid. Your attorney will determine who is at fault and advise you of the relevant statute of limitations.
What evidence is needed for my case?
You should always gather as much evidence as you can. Even if it doesn’t seem important, save it just in case it is useful to your attorney. Immediately after your accident, take notes. Your memory of the accident will never be clearer than right after it happens, and you could forget some important details. Write down everything you remember about the incident, how you’re feeling, what injuries you suffered, and any other details. As you go through your medical appointments, continue to take notes on your recovery.
Preserve any and all evidence you can! For example, if your clothes were torn or bloodied at the time of your accident, save them. Take photos of your injury immediately after your accident. If applicable, take a photo of any broken or damaged items that could have caused your accident. Your attorney will take this one step further by taking photos of the scene, obtaining any video surveillance in the area, and interviewing witnesses.
Finally, paperwork can be extremely useful. Your attorney should be responsible for collecting the necessary documentation, but your input will be essential. For example, if police came to the scene of your accident, obtain their information. Keeping names and contact information for all potential witnesses, doctors, or any other sources of info will be helpful. Any evidence you can get will be helpful for your attorney, so you should try to get as much as you can.
How do I pay for my personal injury lawsuit?
Personal injury cases are offered on a “contingency fee” basis, meaning that you will not have to pay out pocket for your attorney’s services. In a contingency fee arrangement, your attorney agrees to accept a pre-determined fee out of your recovery at the end of your case. If you win your case, your attorney will collect their fee out of your damages. If you lose your case, there is no cost to you, and you will not be forced to pay for the work your attorney did on your case. There is no harm in consulting a personal injury attorney to see if your injury is viable for a lawsuit, as it is at no financial risk to you.
You don’t need to worry about the details – Hach & Rose, LLP is here to help.
When you’ve been injured, the last thing you want to do is worry about the details of a lawsuit. The best thing you can do is find an experienced personal injury attorney and let them take care of it for you. Contact us today for a complimentary review of your case.
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