Category: Personal Injury

Do I Have a Personal Injury Case?

Male motorist experiencing neck pain after car crash

Whether or not you have a personal injury case and can recover compensation depends upon the ability of your personal injury attorney to prove that someone was at fault in causing you to be injured. Personal injury cases can arise out of a variety of circumstances and are not limited to just car accidents, or slip and falls. 

Though the best way to find out about your specific rights is to speak with an attorney whose practice focuses on personal injury law offers, the following information will give you a better understanding of personal injury cases in general.

Person acquiring a personal injury by being hit by car

 

What is a personal injury case?

An injury caused by the negligence or by the intentional conduct of another party may give rise to a personal injury case, but there needs to be more in order for you, as the injured party, to receive compensation. The following are elements that must be present for there to be a personal injury case:

  • There must be evidence proving that another party violated a duty of care by acting in a manner that was negligent, careless or reckless. For instance, all drivers owe a duty to others using the roads to obey the traffic laws, maintain control over their vehicles and keep a proper lookout for other users of the roads and highways. Texting while driving would be careless and considered negligent conduct breaching the duty of care.
  • The breach of duty must be the cause of the injuries you suffered. If texting causes a motorist to crash into you, the negligent conduct caused the accident. However, if you smashed into the rear of a car stopped at a red light, the fact that the driver of the car you hit was texting would not be the cause of the crash and the injuries you suffered.
  • You must have suffered damages as a result of the accident. A car crash that leaves you with a slight cut on the hand that did not require medical treatment would not give rise to a personal injury case.

Damages are either economic or noneconomic. Economic damages are easier to calculate because they represent actual expenses, including medical bills, lost earnings, expenses related to rehabilitation and physical therapy, and the cost of medical equipment, such as crutches and canes. Proof of economic damages usually takes the form of bills and statements.

Noneconomic damages can be more difficult to place a value on because they include pain and suffering, diminished quality of life, scarring and disfigurement and physical impairment. Some states place a cap on the amount of noneconomic damages courts may award in personal injury claims based upon medical malpractice. For instance, the cap in California is $250,000. 

Person under emotional distress

 

Recovering damages for emotional distress

Proving emotional distress or mental harm requires evidence that the defendant, the party causing the harm, intentionally engaged in outrageous conduct or showed a reckless disregard for the emotional harm the victim could suffer from the outrageous conduct. Sexual assault would be an example of outrageous conduct that the perpetrator was intentionally engaged in against a victim. The testimony of medical professionals treating you for emotional distress would be needed to support a claim for damages.

Imposing liability: Who is at fault?

Some personal injury cases may involve multiple parties being at fault due to their relationship to each other. For instance, the occupants of a car injured when the driver of a commercial truck failed to obey a stop sign and slammed into them could sue the truck driver and the company for whom the driver worked under the legal theory of vicarious liability.

Insurance companies that issue auto or property insurance policies provide coverage to their insureds, but they are not the party sued in a personal injury case. Their function is to provide policyholders with a defense and pay claims if the insured is found at fault.

Average settlement in a personal injury case

Every personal injury case is different, so it is impossible to arrive at a figure representing an average settlement. For example, two passengers in a vehicle each suffer a concussion. The cases might appear to be similar, but the fact that one of the victims continues to suffer from headaches and dizziness a year after the injury would weigh heavily in favor of a higher settlement over the other passenger who recovered within a week with no lingering effects.

Female personal injury lawyer giving thumbs up

 

Choosing the right personal injury attorney

If you have been injured through the fault of another party, you need the services of an experienced and skilled personal injury attorney. Reputable personal injury attorneys take the time during the initial consultation to get to know about you and the accident that caused you to be injured. They do not try to pressure you into retaining them to file your claim for compensation or trick you with promises of a quick settlement.

Only about 4% of personal injury cases ever go to trial, but most are settled before that point. A good personal injury lawyer knows when an offer does not fairly compensate you. Attorneys who focus their practices on personal injury cases achieve settlements by having established a reputation for being prepared to take a case to trial if the settlement offer fails to fairly compensate their client. You want the attorney handling your personal injury case to be both a skilled negotiator willing to commit the time and effort to reach a settlement as well as someone who is not reluctant to take a case to trial if doing so will achieve a more favorable outcome.

What is The Personal Injury Lawsuit Process?

Injured woman signing documents for lawsuit

No one wants to become involved in a lawsuit, but if you have been injured in an accident caused by negligence or by the intentional conduct of another party, you might not have a choice. A personal injury lawsuit may be necessary to enable you to recover compensation for your medical care, lost earnings, and pain and suffering.

The following information about the process should help you to have a better understanding of what to expect while pursuing a personal injury claim.

Injured person on ground gripping arm

1. Document the accident

What you do at the scene of an accident can affect what happens in your personal injury lawsuit. You should begin preparing for your claim immediately after the accident occurs. Documenting the accident preserves essential information your attorney will need, including:

  • The names and contact information of other parties involved in the accident.
  • Photos of the accident scene and of the injuries you suffered.
  • Names and contact information of any witnesses to the accident.

2. Visit a doctor

In some cases, an injured party is immediately treated on the scene of an accident by emergency responders and possibly transported to the hospital for further evaluation. Even if you are not taken to the hospital by ambulance, you should:

  • Immediately see a physician for an evaluation and treatment of your injuries. 
  • Document all visits to your doctor and any treatments for injuries related to the accident.
  • Make a list to give to your lawyer of all health care professionals you see in connection with your injuries and any medications prescribed by them.

3. Consult with a personal injury attorney

You should meet with a personal injury attorney as soon after the accident as possible. Bring all of the reports, pictures, and information you gathered at the time of the accident for your attorney to review.

An experienced personal injury attorney will use the first meeting with you to ask questions about the accident and your injuries to help determine if there are grounds to pursue a claim. The consultation, for which most personal injury lawyers do not charge a fee, provides you with the opportunity to ask about the attorney’s experience and success rate handling cases similar to your own. 

Reputable attorneys will not pressure you or make promises of huge settlements to entice you into retaining them. Instead, they want you to trust in their ability to provide outstanding service and to be comfortable about your decision to retain them.

4. Investigate and contact the insurance company

An investigation into the circumstances of your injury will be conducted by your personal injury attorney. The evidence gathered will give the attorney a clearer understanding of the party at fault, the extent of your injuries, and the best strategy for obtaining the compensation you need and deserve. The length of time it takes to complete the investigation can vary, depending upon the availability of reports and witnesses.

The attorney will keep you informed about the results of the investigation and discuss strengths and weaknesses in the evidence supporting your claim for damages. It is at this stage that your attorney will contact the company insuring the other party to discuss the claim and let them know that you have legal counsel.

Injured person shaking hands with a person injury attorney

5. Efforts to settle out of court

Settlement negotiations in personal injury cases are an ongoing process. Once your lawyer obtains copies of your medical records to fully understand the extent of your injuries, negotiations will take place with the insurance company and the attorney defending the other party. 

An attorney dedicated to looking out for your best interests might hold off on making a settlement demand until you have recovered sufficiently from your injuries to have reached a point of maximum medical improvement. Settling a case too soon could fail to take into account future medical treatment. 

Your attorney will keep you informed about negotiations and won’t agree to a settlement without your approval. Settlement discussions go on for as long as both sides believe there is hope of a resolution.

6. File a lawsuit with the court

The filing of a lawsuit does not mean your case will go to trial and not be settled. The majority of personal injury cases are settled before trial, but there are time limits for commencement of a lawsuit, referred to as the statute of limitations. For instance, the California statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits is only two years. Failing to file a lawsuit before expiration of the statute of limitation could cause you to lose the right to sue.

Following are the stages of a personal injury lawsuit:

·        Initial pleadings: Your attorney will prepare and serve a complaint on the other party. The complaint contains the allegations upon which your claim for damages is based. The other party, referred to as the “defendant,” has 30 days to serve an answer admitting or denying the allegations. How much time is spent on this stage of the lawsuit depends upon how long it takes for your attorney to prepare and serve the complaint, but experienced personal injury lawyers should be able to get a complaint completed within a matter of days once the decision is made to start a lawsuit.

·        Discovery: Either party to the lawsuit may demand additional information from the other. Discovery takes the form of documents, testimony during depositions, reports from doctors and other experts, and the names of witnesses in the position of the opposing parties. The discovery stage can take several months to complete.

·        Motions: Motions may be used by either party to ask the court to do something. For example, attorneys can ask the court to order a party to comply with a demand for discovery or risk sanctions, including dismissal of a claim or a defense for failure to comply. The party served with a motion has 14 days to serve written opposition to it and the other party has 5 days to respond to the opposition papers. 

·        Mediation: The process of mediation may take place at any time upon request of the parties. A neutral mediator hears from the parties and their lawyers and attempts to negotiate a settlement. Mediation is not binding, which means the mediator cannot force a party to accept a particular result. A mediation session could take several hours with cases usually requiring only one session to determine if the case can be settled.

·        Trial: It can take a year or more for a lawsuit to reach the trial stage. The plaintiff, the party making the claim, presents evidence through documents and witnesses to support the claim. The defendant has the opportunity to present evidence in opposition to the claim. Once each side has completed presenting evidence and the attorneys present closing arguments, the judge or jurors deliberate and reach a decision known as a “verdict”.

A verdict after trial does not mean the case is over. The losing party has the right to make post-trial motions asking the judge presiding over the trial to set aside or alter the verdict. Either party also has the right to file an appeal asking for review by an appellate court.

The importance of finding the right lawyer

The attorney you choose to handle your claim for personal injuries plays an essential role in the outcome. A skilled and experienced attorney understands the process of negotiating to achieve a successful settlement, but has built a reputation as someone who is prepared to take a case to trial in order to achieve an outcome that is most beneficial to you. Before you decide on the attorney who will represent you, be sure to compile a list of questions to ask the personal injury lawyer.

10 Questions To Ask A Personal Injury Lawyer

Asking a personal injury attorney questions

When you’ve been injured, finding a good personal injury attorney can feel like a daunting task. This is especially true when you see advertisements for personal injury lawyers everywhere you go in California. With the right information, you can narrow the field to the attorney best suited to handle your case and get you the maximum compensation for your injuries.

A face-to-face meeting with a personal injury attorney is a good place to start. Use the following 10 questions to ask if a lawyer has the background, experience, skills and other qualities required to provide outstanding representation.

Asking questions to a person injury attorney

1. How will you make a difference in the outcome of my personal injury case?

Personal injury lawyers handle claims on behalf of people injured in accidents or incidents caused by the careless, reckless or intentional acts of another party. The insurance company for the party whose negligence caused you to be injured has experienced claims adjusters, investigators and defense lawyers committed to protecting the insurance company’s money by paying you as little compensation as possible.

An experienced personal injury lawyer has the necessary skills to take on claims adjusters and insurance company defense lawyers to give you the best chance at recovering the compensation to which you are entitled. Your lawyer knows how to gather and present to prove the fault of the other party and establish the extent of the injuries it caused you to suffer.

2. How long have you been in practice?

Though time alone doesn’t make for a good attorney, it’s helpful to know how long your prospective lawyer has been practicing. Whether they are fresh out of law school or they’ve been practicing for decades can be a factor in their suitability.

Additionally, the number of years that an attorney has been in practice is not as important as the number of personal injury cases they have handled during their years of practice. For instance, an attorney whose practice sees one or two personal injury cases each year will not have developed the same skills, knowledge or ability as someone handling significantly more personal injury cases on a daily basis.

What is also important is the reputation the attorney has developed with judges and other lawyers as well as with former clients. One way to find out what clients think about the lawyer is through websites on which people write and post reviews. Google and Yelp offer reviews written by consumers on a wide variety of services. A reputable website that limits its scope to attorneys and law firms is Avvo, where you can find consumer reviews of attorneys practicing in your community.

Another excellent indicator of an attorney or law firm’s reputation within the legal community is the peer-review ratings from Martindale Hubbell. The company asks attorneys practicing within a geographic area to anonymously rate the legal ability and ethical standards of other attorneys. The highest peer-review rating is AV-Preeminent, which indicates the lawyer or law firm has been recognized for exhibiting outstanding legal ability and possessing the highest ethical standards.

3. Does your practice focus on personal injury cases similar to mine?

You want the attorney you choose to not only have significant experience handling personal injury cases but to have experience handling personal injury cases similar to your own. An attorney may be a veteran personal injury lawyer when it comes to construction accidents but a complete newcomer to the area of dog bites. 

A personal injury attorney must have knowledge of the law as it applies to the various ways in which a claim may arise, including:

·        Bicycle accidents

·        Construction accidents

·        Car accidents

·        Drunk driving accidents

·        Distracted driving accidents

·        Fires and explosions

·        Dog bites

·        Truck accidents

·        Slip-and-fall accidents

·        Hit-and-run accidents

A personal injury lawyer who has handled other cases arising under circumstances similar to your own may have a better understanding of the law and the evidence needed to prove a claim for damages. For example, an attorney who handles construction accident claims on a regular basis would know that multiple parties could be at fault and must be included in a lawsuit.

4. What is your success rate?

Though it is an important question, the answers you receive to this question could be misleading. A law firm that only focuses on settling cases might claim to have a very high rate of success, but some settlements could be for less than the compensation the clients could have received had their cases gone to trial. Be sure to ask about how the success rate is determined (is it simply cases settled, or cases won at trial), that way you have a clear picture of what the attorney’s previous outcomes have been.

The majority of civil cases in California, including personal injury claims, are resolved before they go to trial according to data compiled by the state. You want an attorney who is not only a good negotiator but also has a record of successfully taking cases to trial when a fair settlement offer is not forthcoming from the insurance company.

5. How much will you charge to represent me, and when do you get paid?

Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee arrangement, under which they are paid a percentage of the amount recovered through settlement or verdict after trial. The percentage is determined between the client and the attorney, so ask the attorney to show you the fee agreement, including the percentage you will be charged.

Personal injury attorneys usually get paid after a case is concluded through settlement or verdict after trial. Ask to see a copy of a typical retainer agreement spelling out the fee arrangement.

6. Who is responsible for costs and expenses related to my case?

The costs for expert witnesses, investigators, depositions and other expenses related to the personal injury litigation are incurred regardless of whether you win or lose. Responsibility for payment of those costs must be spelled out in the retainer agreement with your lawyer.

The agreement should clearly state how the costs of litigation are handled if you win. For example, the retainer agreement should state whether the contingency fee is calculated based upon the recovery before or after deduction of litigation costs.

7. Who will be responsible for handling my case if I choose your firm to represent me?

The attorney you meet with might have primary responsibility for your case, but other personnel might be the ones handling it on a day-to-day basis. It is customary for associate attorneys and paralegals in a law firm to work on a personal injury case performing various tasks, including interviewing witnesses, obtaining medical records and other documents, and preparing pleadings and other documents for court.

Ask the lawyer to explain the process the law firm uses to assign tasks related to your personal injury case. You should be given the name of at least one contact person who will be available to answer routine questions about the case when your attorney is unavailable.

8. Will I need to take my case to trial?

Each case is different, so it may be difficult for the attorney to give you a definitive answer to this question. However, the attorney should be able to discuss his or her prior experience settling cases similar to yours in advance of trial.

9. How much is my case worth?

It is difficult for an attorney to accurately evaluate a claim for personal injuries during the initial meeting with a prospective client, but experienced attorneys should be able to give a value range for cases similar to yours that have settled or gone to trial.

10. What documents will I need for my case?

The documents your attorney will need depend upon the type of case. For the first meeting, you should bring copies of accident reports, names and addresses of treating physicians and hospitals, and any other documents containing information about the accident and the injuries that you have in your possession. The lawyer you select to handle your case will obtain additional records, documents and information on your behalf as the case progresses.

Person with a lightbulb above their head

Do your homework to find a personal injury lawyer

Do your homework before choosing a personal injury attorney. Don’t pick a lawyer solely based upon the recommendation of a friend, relative or because of an advertisement. The best method for finding a lawyer that you trust and feel confident can give you the best representation is through a face-to-face meeting.

Personal Injury Case Studies

A personal injury accident can have major short-term and long-term consequences. If you’ve been injured and think other parties involved are at fault, don’t wait to take action and learn about your rights to fair compensation. Below are just some of the cases we’ve won for our clients.

Automobile Accident Personal Injury

Automobile Accidents

  • 950,000 settlement for an ex-NFL player involved in a car accident resulting in a closed head injury, concussion, PTSD, and anxiety.
  • $700,000 for a Roseville couple who were injured in a broadside collision where the wife suffered broken ribs and the husband a broken ankle.
  • $100,000 uninsured motorist policy limits settlement for a client was in rear-ended and underwent surgical neck and spinal fusion
  • $205,000 uninsured motorist policy limits settlement for a woman was in an auto accident where she sustained severe back strain and emotional distress.
  • $32,500 settlement for a 60-year-old woman who suffered whiplash injuries to her neck and back in a rear-end auto collision
  • $30,000 settlement for a 60-year-old woman who suffered whiplash injuries to her neck and back in a rear-end auto-collision.

Automobile vs Pedestrian Bicyclist Accidents

Automobile vs. Pedestrian/Bicyclist Accidents

  • $100,000 settlement of policy limits for an El Dorado County resident who was walking along the side of a road that did not have a sidewalk and was struck by a car that resulted in permanent damage to the central nervous system.
  • $15,571.34 jury verdict in favor of our client – a 22-year-old woman who suffered bruises and contusions to her left ankle after being struck by a slow-moving vehicle while walking on the sidewalk.

Slip And Fall Accidents

Premises Liability Action – Slip & Fall Accidents

  • $275,000 settlement for a 58-year-old woman who was injured by an improperly retained heavy door on a commercial boat that slammed on her ankle causing permanent injury and scarring.
  • $50,000 settlement for a 55-year-old woman who tripped over an exposed tree root at the home she was renting and suffered a dislocated wrist.

Do I Really Need Uninsured Motorist Coverage?

According to the Insurance Research Council (IRC), an average of one in every seven drivers in the United States is currently on the road without insurance. What does this mean for you? If you get in an accident with one of these uninsured drivers, your wallet can take a serious hit.

While frustrating to think about people who drive without insurance, it should also cause you to think about how you can protect yourself and your family. One of the best ways to do this is by purchasing uninsured motorist coverage.

What is uninsured motorist coverage?

Uninsured motorist coverage can seem like an unnecessary life expense, until the moment you desperately need it, that is. Picture this: you get in an accident with another car. The driver of that car caused the accident and does not have insurance. Therefore, there is no insurance money to pay for your injuries, vehicle damage, and potential lost wages. You are then forced to pay your own bills out of pocket.

Uninsured motorist coverage helps you pay for these bills so you personally don’t have to. Depending on the limit you choose for your coverage, you may not have to touch your wallet once during the entire process.

Uninsured motorist coverage can be purchased for both bodily injury and property damage. Many times, the bodily injury portion will also cover other passengers in your car who were injured, as well. Property damage is especially helpful when your car sustains significant damage.

The limits for uninsured motorist coverage usually range from $20,000 to $1 million. When selecting your limit, it is important to consider the worth of your car, your current medical insurance, and if your employer will compensate for disability leave.

Getting in a car accident can create physical and emotional pain, but preparing for the unexpected can help offset some of the trauma. If you do get in an accident, our firm wants to help. We have over 20 years of personal injury experience and a reputation for delivering real results.