Personal Injury Litigation
The fact that mishaps are fairly commonplace does not detract from the pain and confusion that can result when an accident or injury happens to you or a loved one. If you decide to take steps toward protecting your legal rights after an accident or injury, you may have a number of general questions about "personal injury" cases.
What is a "Personal Injury" Case?
"Personal injury" cases are legal disputes that arise when one person suffers harm from an accident or injury, and someone else might be legally responsible for that harm. A personal injury case can become formalized through civil court proceedings that seek to find others legally at fault through a court judgment or, as is much more common, such disputes may be resolved through informal settlement before any lawsuit is filed:
- Formal "Lawsuit" Unlike criminal cases, which are initiated by the government, a formal personal injury case typically starts when a private individual (the "plaintiff") files a civil "complaint" against another person, business, corporation, or government agency (the "defendant"), alleging that they acted carelessly or irresponsibly in connection with an accident or injury that caused harm. This action is known as "filing a lawsuit". Our discussion on negligence and proof is especially helpful.
- Informal Settlement In reality, most disputes over fault for an accident or injury are resolved through informal early settlement, usually among those personally involved in the dispute, their insurers, and attorneys representing both sides. A settlement commonly takes the form of negotiation, followed by a written agreement in which both sides forgo any further action (such as a lawsuit), choosing instead to resolve the matter through payment of an agreeable amount of money.
(Note: the "middle ground" between a lawsuit and an informal settlement is alternative dispute resolution procedures like mediation and arbitration.)
What is a Statute of Limitations?
Plaintiffs have a limited time in which to file a lawsuit, called a "statute of limitations." Generally speaking, the period of time dictated by a statute of limitations begins when the plaintiff is injured or discovers the injury.
Statutes of limitations are established by state law and often vary by type of injury. For instance, the statute of limitations for injuries to an individual in Texas is two years, but five years for sex crimes and one year for libel or slander. It can vary from state to state. For more details, see FindLaw's State Statutes of Limitations directory and Time Limits to Bring a Case: The Statute of Limitations.
Where are the Laws that Govern Personal Injury Cases?
Unlike other areas of the law that find their rules in statutes (such as penal codes in criminal cases), the development of personal injury law has taken place mostly through court decisions, and in treatises written by legal scholars. Many states have taken steps to summarize the development of personal injury law in written statutes, but for practical purposes court decisions remain the main source of the law in any legal case arising from an accident or injury.
Do I Have a Viable Personal Injury Case?
Any potential personal injury case requires a detailed understanding of the facts, the processes, and the law. If an accident has impacted your life, you will want to consult with an experienced attorney to see if you should pursue a lawsuit. Not sure if you have a case? You can always have an attorney do a free evaluation of your case here.
How Is Fault Determined in California Personal Injury Cases?
To collect money stemming from a personal injury claim, California law requires you to prove another party was negligent. You must show:
- The party causing your injuries had a responsibility not to injure you and failed to live up to that responsibility
- There is a connection between the other party's responsibility and your injury
- You suffered damages, or a financial loss, as a result of your accident
California law will reduce the total amount you can recover if it's found that your carelessness contributed to your injuries.
Whether you live in San Francisco, Stockton, Chula Vista, Irvine, or elsewhere in California, your California personal injury attorney can help you understand your legal options and collect money from the party at fault in your accident.
Types of California Personal Injury Compensation
If it's determined that another party's negligence was responsible for your injuries, they may be required to pay for:
- All medical bills for treatment related to your injuries
- Permanent disability and disfigurement stemming from the accident
- Emotional distress from the accident
- The repair or replacement of any property damaged or destroyed in your California accident
- Lost wages for time off from work (including time spent going to doctor's appointments and physical therapy) as a result of your personal injury accident
- The cost of hiring someone to do household chores that you're unable to do because of your injury that occurred in California
- Any other costs you've incurred because of the accident
If you were injured because of a crime committed by someone else, that person may be prosecuted under California criminal laws. However, you may still have to file a personal injury lawsuit in California courts to recover money to pay for your injuries.
STEPS YOU SHOULD TAKE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS AFTER BEING IN AN ACCIDENT
Take Pictures and Gather Evidence
If you are injured in a motor vehicle collision, you or someone with you should get the name, insurance information, car license plate number, address and phone number of the other driver. You should also get the contact information for witnesses to the accident. Any parts broken off of your vehicle should be preserved rather than discarded, so they can be viewed by an insurance adjuster and/or an accident reconstruction expert. It is also important to take photographs your injuries, vehicle damage, relative position of the vehicles and the general vicinity of the accident from multiple angles. This evidence can help an accident reconstruction expert analyze the crash and explain the dynamics of the crash in terms understandable to a jury.
While we used a car accident in the example above, you should preserve evidence whether the accident is a trip and falls, construction accident, industrial accident or other incident that causes injury. If you are injured by a defective product, you should also keep the packaging, any product inserts, instructions and all product parts. You need to act quickly if the product that caused your injury is in the possession of a third party. A personal injury attorney can take action to get the product back, which may include filing for a restraining order to prevent the product from being altered, discarded or destroyed.
Have an Accident Report Prepared
Whether you are injured on a ride at an amusement park or when you are struck by a vehicle while walking across the street, you need to make sure that an accident report is prepared that documents the incident. If the accident is a pedestrian accident or other form of vehicular collision, you should summon law enforcement to prepare an accident report. When you speak with the officer, you should indicate why you think the other driver was at-fault. If the other driver blew through a red light or smells of alcohol, this information should be communicated to the investigating officer. If your injury occurs in an amusement park accident or fall in a store, the company should prepare an incident report. You should make sure you get a copy of this report as well as the names and contact information for anyone that witnessed the incident.
Be Careful What You Say
If you have never been involved in a collision, the experience can be extremely disturbing and unsettling. The confusion and disorientation that accompanies such a traumatic event can result in people uttering statements that will later come back to haunt them. You should never admit fault at the scene of an accident, even if you believe that you caused the crash. The process of determining liability for a traffic accident is often so complicated experts disagree. A layperson at the scene of a crash under extreme stress is not in the position to accurately determine fault. Insurance companies might use such admissions or even an “I am sorry” to argue that you admitted responsibility for causing the crash.
Beware of Wolfish Insurance Adjusters in Sheepish Clothing
The other party’s insurance adjuster might seem amicable, helpful and genuinely concerned about your well-being. Some accident victims damage their case by letting their guard down and disclosing information to an adjuster that later will be used to deny liability or reduce a damage award. The adjuster is an employee of the insurance company, so his or her job is to help the insurance carrier avoid paying your claim. Even if you are careful not to intentionally provide potentially damaging information, insurance adjusters handle hundreds or even thousands of claims, so they have extensive experience extracting damaging facts.
The insurance company may even be prepared to cut you a check, but you should understand this is a trap! The insurance company will never offer you the full value of your claim without a fight. This would go against their principle objective of increasing profits. When you accept a lowball settlement offer, you will be asked to sign a general release or similar document that can waive all of your legal rights, including those you do not know exist. The best practice is never to speak with a representative of the other driver’s insurance company without talking to your California accident injury lawyer