In virtually every activity, individuals owe others the duty to take reasonable actions to protect them from physical harm or property damage. This obligation is known as the duty of care. Suppose an individual exhibits careless or reckless behavior that deviates from the duty to avoid harming others. That behavior is known as negligence. If someone else’s negligence injures you, you have the right to seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of any harm through the personal injury claims process. In some cases, this process can involve a lawsuit.
What Does It Mean to Sue Someone?
It is a word that is tossed around frequently and often jokingly. But what does it mean to sue someone?
In the personal injury arena, victims of someone else’s negligence generally seek compensation first through the at-fault party’s associated liability insurance policy. For example, if a car accident caused by a distracted driver injures you, you would initially file a personal injury claim against that driver’s auto liability insurance policy. If your injury resulted from a slip and fall at a grocery store, you would likely seek compensation from the store’s business liability insurance policy.
If the insurance provider who holds the at-fault party’s liability insurance policy refuses to pay the claim, you can file it as a personal injury lawsuit.
A lawsuit is a legal claim filed in civil court that asks the court to decide on the two most important aspects of your claim:
- Liability: the ability to prove the at-fault party owed you a duty of care and that they breached their duty by their careless or reckless actions.
- Damages: referring to the compensation you are entitled to receive for the expenses and impacts of your injuries.
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The Types of Negligence that Can Result in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
There are many ways in which someone’s negligence can cause injuries or even death to another.
Some of the most common types of accidents or incidents that result in a personal injury lawsuit include:
- Motor vehicle accidents involve cars, trucks, commercial vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, or pedestrians. Around six million motor vehicle accidents occur on U.S. roadways yearly, resulting in around 3 million injuries. Some of the most common causes of car accidents include speeding, alcohol impairment, and distracted driving.
- Premises liability accidents involve the failure of a property’s owner or manager to keep it free from hazards to guests. The most common type of premises liability claim is a slip and fall claim. Approximately one million people are treated at hospital emergency rooms each year as a result of injuries sustained when they slipped or tripped and fell over obstacles such as worn or torn flooring, cracked pavement, dangerous staircases, or obstacles in walkways. Other types of premises liability matters include swimming pool accidents, fires and flooding, amusement park accidents, injuries from malfunctioning escalators and elevators, the failure of the property owner or manager to provide adequate security, and dog bite claims.
- Product liability matters involving manufactured products, medications, medical devices, and food that are unreasonably dangerous for the consumer even if they use the product according to labeled instructions.
- Wrongful death matters involving someone dying in an accident or incident caused by another’s negligence. The deceased’s family members bring this type of suit to compensate them for the expenses and impacts of their loss.
The Statute of Limitations and Why It Matters in a Personal Injury Claim
Generally, those injured in an accident resulting from someone else’s negligence can file a lawsuit in court if the at-fault party’s insurance provider fails to compensate the claim. However, an important deadline is involved in filing a lawsuit, known as the statute of limitations. State lawmakers place a statute of limitations on certain types of claims.
For example, in California, the statute of limitations for most personal injury and wrongful death claims is two years from the injury or death date.
The importance of filing your claim within the statute of limitations cannot be understated. Failing to do so will usually result in losing the right to use the court system as you seek compensation for the impacts and expenses of your injury or your loved one’s death. The main reason insurance companies settle claims out-of-court is to avoid the costs and uncertainty of litigation.
If you can no longer file the claim in court, the insurance company has no financial incentive to settle the claim.
How an Attorney Helps You Obtain Compensation
While no one is required to hire a car accident attorney to seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of injuries sustained due to negligence, having an experienced personal injury lawyer is crucial to your ability to recover fair compensation for your claim. Contrary to popular belief, insurance companies aren’t in the business of compensating victims for their insured carelessness or recklessness. Instead, they are in the business of collecting premiums, and they hire claims adjusters to evaluate claims and find ways to reduce or even eliminate payouts on injury claims.
A personal injury claim is a complex legal procedure made even more difficult by the efforts of the insurer to pay as little as possible. An experienced attorney understands how to navigate the legal process and protect the claim from the adjuster’s tactics. Here are some of the services personal injury attorneys commonly offer during the personal injury claims process.
Investigating the Case
After an accident occurs, different parties may conduct investigations for different purposes. Local law enforcement personnel will generally investigate traffic accident injuries to see if the accident resulted from traffic code violations, such as a driver under the influence or texting and driving.
When a victim files a claim, the at-fault party’s insurance provider assigns a claims adjuster to investigate the accident and determine how much compensation they owe the claimant, if any.
A personal injury attorney investigates the accident on behalf of the claimant. An attorney will look at the details of the accident to determine sources of liability, insurance policies they can claim against for compensation, and the type of evidence they can obtain to prove the claim.
Valuing the Claim
Many people understand that a personal injury claimant can obtain compensation for expenses involved in the medical treatment of injuries sustained in an accident resulting from negligence. Likewise, they also know they can seek compensation for the cost of repairing or replacing their damaged personal property, such as the vehicle they were driving when the accident occurred.
However, personal injury claimants often come into the process without realizing the other expenses and impacts they can claim through the personal injury process, such as:
- The loss of wages and other benefits while the claimant could not work.
- Loss of future earning capacity due to permanent injuries incurred in the accident. Catastrophic injury claims typically include this type of loss. Catastrophic injuries are those that will likely result in the physical inability of the claimant to earn income. Common types of catastrophic injuries include the brain and spinal cord, which make up the body’s central nervous system, control most of the body’s function, and are notoriously inept at healing from damage. Additionally, catastrophic injuries include those to spinal vertebrae and discs and those that affect hearing and vision or cause limb loss.
- Pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, or loss of the enjoyment of life that the claimant experienced as a result of the injury.
There are also several factors that the attorney considers when determining the value of a claim. These factors include the amount of insurance available, the severity of injuries, the income the claimant or deceased was earning at the time of the accident, and whether the injured or deceased party shared responsibility for the accident. In most cases, a personal injury claimant can be partially responsible for causing the accident that resulted in their injuries and still seek compensation from other liable parties.
Demanding Your Compensation
Insurance claims adjusters often bank on the notion that a claimant handling their own personal injury claim will be unaware of the value of their claim, how much they’re entitled to receive, or even how to prove that someone else was liable for causing the accident.
Once a personal injury attorney has valued the claim, they will send a demand to the insurance provider for the claim’s full value. The claims adjuster will analyze the claim and can choose to either pay the demand, deny the claim, or make an offer to settle the claim for less than its demanded value.
Filing Your Claim in Court
If the insurance provider is not quick to pay the claim in full or make an offer for a fair settlement, the claimant’s attorney can file the claim as a lawsuit in court. However, filing the claim does not prevent the at-fault party’s insurance provider and your attorney from continuing to negotiate a settlement. Settlement agreements can be entered at any time, even after the trial has begun, as long as the court has not rendered a decision on the matter.
Negotiating a Settlement
Often, the initial settlement offer made by the insurance company is far below the established value of the claim. However, the claimant’s attorney can negotiate with the claims adjuster to increase the offer. The attorney can also guide the claimant on how to value the claim to determine if an offer is fair. However, the claimant’s attorney cannot decide on a settlement offer. The claimant must approve actions impacting the status of the case.
The personal injury attorney will litigate the case if the claim does not settle before trial. These services include preparing evidence exhibits, examining eyewitnesses, arranging expert witnesses, and delivering opening and closing arguments.
Assisting You in Collecting Your Compensation
Once the claim is resolved by a negotiated settlement or a court award, the claimant’s attorney will assist in collecting compensation. Because personal injury attorneys usually work on a contingent fee billing method, they will only be paid for their service if they successfully recover compensation for the claimant.
If the victim receives an award, the attorney receives a percentage and assists in satisfying any medical liens imposed for injury treatment before releasing the remainder of the compensation to the client.
If someone else’s negligence has injured you or a loved one, you may have the right to compensation. Contact a reputable personal injury lawyer to schedule a free consultation and begin the recovery process. An experienced legal professional will guide you through your claim and fight for you every step of the way.