Personal Injury Claims & Lawsuits: What You Need to Know
You’ve been hurt, and it’s not your fault. However, that doesn’t mean your hospital bills and your living expenses just disappear. Especially if your injury prevents you from working, you could have a case for a personal injury lawsuit. Basically, you can sue the party legally responsible for damages and reparations. But you don’t want to leap into a lawsuit before you’ve weighed the risks and the rewards.
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Personal Injury Law Basics
First, you need to consider if the responsible party is legally responsible. This is a higher standard than you might expect. It’s a fine determination to make, and is best left to a lawyer. Lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming. Try to look at your case objectively; if you still believe that you have a case, consult an attorney. Only they will know whether it’s prudent to move forward.
Bodily Injury Claims
The first type of personal injury claim you might want to make is a bodily injury claim. This can cover accidents made by a variety of third parties, as long as it physically injures you, but it’s most commonly used in car accidents. In fact, many people have bodily injury liability insurance, specifically to cover any third party injuries in the event of an accident.
Imagine that a car runs a red light and into your vehicle. As a result of the accident, you sustain a neck injury. A percentage of your medical bills might be covered by the other driver, or they might have to pay it out of pocket. You can also file a suit to recover more costs, and their insurance might pay part of the amount awarded to you as well.
Bodily injury claims are not just restricted to car accidents, but that’s the most common one. You can also file bodily injury suits against a business, provided that their actions resulted in your harm and you are not acting as an employee of that company. If you are, there’s a special category for that.
Workers’ Comp Claims
Workers’ compensation (often abbreviated to “workers’ comp”) laws will vary from state to state, making an attorney all the more valuable when moving forward with your case. They will know the specifics in regards to your state. However, generally:
- You have to be hurt on the job.
- You receive wage compensation and coverage of medical expenses. The amount of each will depend on your situation and the company’s workers’ compensation insurance.
- You will not receive any punitive damages or compensation for pain and suffering.
- You are not allowed to file a separate personal injury suit against the company.
While you are giving up the possibility of more money, you are assured enough to cover your living and medical expenses. What’s more, the legal standards are laxer in a workers’ comp claim than other personal injury claims. You won’t have to prove negligence, which is a huge step up towards getting your old life back.
Personal Injury Lawsuit vs Settlements
Most personal injury lawsuits do not make it all the way to a lawsuit. Most are settled out of court. This still involves lawyers and legal processes, but instead of making your case in front of a judge or a jury, your lawyer and the defendant’s will try to come to an agreement. It’s often more sensible for defendants to cut their losses and settle.
The amount that you win through a settlement will likely be much lower than what you could win in court. However, you also will save yourself a lot of time, money from attorney’s fees, and it’s a sure thing. With a lawsuit, there’s always the risk that you might not win, or that you will be awarded an even lesser amount than the settlement.
Personal Injury Lawsuit Process
Your lawyer will first document your injuries, the series of events, and other evidence. They might ask you get various medical or psychological exams to bolster your case.
Afterwards, your lawyer and the defendant’s lawyer will go back and forth, attempting to negotiate. While there are several steps to this process, how long it goes on for is really up to everyone involved. They will probably respond with a settlement offer, you will respond with a counter offer, they will have a counter offer to that one… You see where this goes.
However, if you’re not able to come to an agreement, you can file your lawsuit, asking for a specific amount. Getting to court usually takes over a year, depending where you are, so make sure you’re committed. During this time, you’ll still have to pay for your lawyer and your living expenses, most likely. Considering the time and cost of a personal injury lawsuit, you can see why most people opt to settle.
Personal Injury Lawsuit Settlements: What to Expect
Settling out of court can help you in the long run, and when you receive a settlement offer, go over it carefully with your lawyer. However, before you even get to that point, you should understand some basics about settling.
How Much is My Claim Worth?
Your medical and living expenses will pay a large part in determining your claim’s worth. Your claim will be worth more money if you spent a month in intensive care than just an hour in urgent care.
However, the big paychecks usually come from punitive damages. In these cases, the court rules that you not only deserve to be compensated for your injury, but that the defendant should be punished. This can sometimes amount to tens of millions of dollars. Some cases are not eligible for punitive damages, though, so ask your attorney.
Additionally, your claim will probably be less if you were at all responsible for your injury. Even if it was mostly the defendant’s fault, any part you played will lower your claim’s worth.
Calculating Pain and Suffering
Sometimes you can receive compensations for your pain and suffering as part of your claim as well. Calculating your degree of pain and suffering, however, can be challenging.
Some attorneys use computer programs to calculate a fair amount; others recommend $100 per day until total recovery. Most rate your injury on a severity scale (generally 1-5) and multiply that by your expenses. There is no nationally agreed upon method. It is entirely subjective. That can make it difficult to argue strongly one way or the other in court.
However, personal injury lawsuits are always complicated. Insurance companies often get involved. They take several years worth of effort. But the rewards can be well worth it if you have a case. Personal injury lawsuits, like all civil suits, are an uphill battle. Make sure you’ve mentally prepared yourself before you file one.
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Dayton is a chronic Wikipedia addict, which is detrimental to her social life but stellar for her writing. She resides in Boise, ID, surrounded by her own frantic outlines, highlighted encyclopedias, and potatoes. The latter was not by choice.
This post was updated February 28, 2019. It was originally published January 19, 2018.