In our everyday practice, we are always asked questions about personal injury cases. Many people have not had prior experience with personal injury cases so they are unaware of the specifics of these actions. In order to give you some background knowledge of personal injury cases, here are the answers to some common questions that we are often asked.
Q. What is a personal injury?
The category of personal injury is much broader than you think it is. There are a wide variety of harms that fall under the rubric of a personal injury.
Obviously, a personal injury includes harm to the body, but it also stretches beyond that. In general, a personal injury is some kind of damage that results from an accident or another type of injury. Of course, a personal injury includes obvious causes such as a car accident or a slip-and-fall.
Beyond that, a personal injury can also include harm that you suffer when you use a certain product or take a medication. For example, if you are hurt by a medical device such as a mesh that was inserted in your body during surgery, this could form the grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.
Personal injury can include any number of harms. Of course, it includes physical injury but it can also include distress and emotional distress caused by an accident.
Q. How do I file a personal injury claim
There are two possible ways to file a personal injury claim. If the injury is the result of an accident, the process may generally start with presenting a claim to the other driver’s insurance company. The insurance company will evaluate the claim. If they feel that there is some merit to your claim, they may make a settlement offer out of a desire to avoid a trial.
If there is no insurance company to deal with or they will not make a fair offer, you can file a personal injury lawsuit. This is done by drafting a complaint and filing it with the court within the applicable statute of limitations. This begins the lawsuit process, and the defendant can either fight the claim in court or make a settlement offer at that time.
Q. What do personal injury lawyers do?
A personal injury attorney will represent you at every step of the way when it comes to your case. Starting with when you first retain them, the attorney is devoted to helping you present the strongest possible case to entitle you to the most compensation.
First, the attorney will help you investigate the basis and the facts behind your claim. They can interview witnesses and reconstruct the accident or establish your case so that it can be presented either to the insurance company or as part of a lawsuit.
Then, the attorney may help negotiate a settlement with the insurance company, using their knowledge of what your claim is worth to get you the most possible money. If it is not possible to reach a settlement, the attorney will file a lawsuit on your behalf. Then, they will conduct fact discovery on your behalf, deposing witnesses and reviewing documents. Finally, they will represent you at trial, presenting the evidence and questioning witnesses.
Q. How long does a personal injury lawsuit take?
When you file a personal injury lawsuit, know that the process will not be instantaneous or even quick. If your case goes all the way through to a jury verdict, it can take several years to complete.
The length of a personal injury lawsuit depends in part on how complicated your claim is. If you have a case that requires many factual or scientific issues to be addressed, the legal action can take even longer.
In order to gain an appreciation for how long a trial takes, it is important to understand the various phases of the case. Even after the plaintiff files their claim, the defendant has time to answer it, and may even get an extension for the amount of time that they have.
Then, the process of discovery begins, and this is where the time can really begin to slow down. In many cases, the process of discovery can take well over a year as there are countless documents to be exchanged and depositions to conduct. If the parties cannot agree on the scope of discovery, it can take even more time as they look to the judge for a resolution of the issues.
After that, the parties are given some time to prepare for trial before the case goes to a hearing. If the case is in front of a judge as opposed to a jury, the matter can take even longer to see through to a conclusion.
With all of that, you can see why a trial usually takes years to conclude. In some cases, your case will go all the way through the eve of a trial and will settle. Accordingly, while trials are lengthy, very few personal injury cases go all the way to a full trial.
Q. How much should I ask for in a personal injury settlement?
This all depends on the damages that you have suffered. The short answer to this question is the exact amount that would put you in the same position as if the accident never happened.
To fully understand this, you need to have a concept of what damages are in a personal injury case. There are two categories of damages in these cases. The first is economic damages that compensate you for your actual losses. These can include payment for property damage, medical bills and lost wages, both in the past and future.
Non-economic damages compensate you for things such as pain and suffering or emotional distress. They can also include loss of consortium for your spouse or partner. If the defendant’s actions were shocking or egregious, you can even ask for punitive damages if your case goes to trial. Defendants usually will not pay punitive damages in a settlement.
There is one no magic formula for determining how much to ask for in damages other than to know the best approximate valuation of your injuries. This is where the experience of a personal injury attorney will be helpful.
Q. How much does a personal injury lawyer cost?
A personal injury lawyer will only cost money if you are successful in obtaining some sort of financial compensation for your injury, whether it is a settlement or a jury verdict. The attorney will work on a contingency basis, meaning that they are paid only if you are.
When you retain a personal injury lawyer, you will sign a retainer agreement with them. The professional rules to which an attorney is subject requires that they spell out exactly what their fees are in the retainer agreement.
In a personal injury lawsuit, the customary attorney’s fees may vary. You can count on paying roughly a third of your settlement, give or take a little, to your attorney. However, the percentage that must be paid depends on the complexity of the case. Remember that the lawyer’s ability to earn a living depends on their success in helping you. If your case goes to trial, the lawyer will have even more at risk because they are devoting even more time to your case. Thus, they may specify that they will receive a higher percentage in cases that go to trial given the time that they must put into your case.
Whether or not you need to reimburse the attorney for court and filing fees will also need to be spelled out in the retainer agreement. The attorney can charge you for nothing that is not specified in advance.