Personal injury law is the section of civil law that pertains to claims of damages between private parties. Personal injury cases happen for many different reasons, and every state has different laws and statutes pertaining to these civil claims. If you have suffered a physical injury, developed an illness or medical condition, or sustained significant financial losses due to the negligent or intentionally harmful actions of another party, you may have grounds for a personal injury claim.
How Does a Personal Injury Case Begin?
Plaintiff retains an experienced personal injury attorney. A personal injury claim is a civil lawsuit filed by an injured party against the party responsible for their injury. The plaintiff, or the party filing the claim, must identify the defendant, or party responsible for the plaintiff’s injury, and then provide a detailed accounting of the defendant’s responsibility for losses such as medical expenses, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering.
Personal injury cases begin when plaintiffs submit official Complaints with their local courthouses. The court accepts and begins to process these Complaints, and defendants named within these Complaints are notified and provided the opportunity to file Answers. This initial contact typically spurs settlement negotiations. The overwhelming majority of personal injury cases in the US settle outside of court and never reach the trial phase.
Settling vs. Litigating a Personal Injury Case
The next phases of the personal injury claim process depend on the positions of the plaintiff and the defendant. It’s usually in the best interests of both parties to reach a mutually agreeable settlement out of court. At this phase it is critical that the plaintiff is represented by a personal injury attorney in order to maximize the potential value of the settlement for the plaintiff. This saves both parties the time and expense of a protracted litigation battle. However, settlement is not always possible. The named defendant may dispute their responsibility for the plaintiff’s claimed damages or challenge the authenticity of the plaintiff’s claimed damages.
If the settlement negotiation process fails, then the claim will start the litigation phase. Now it is more important than ever to have a personal injury lawyer that is an experienced litigator. Litigation begins with all of the parties involved in the case sharing their documents and evidence in the Discovery process. During this time, all the legal teams involved will likely want to interview witnesses, take sworn statements from their clients and parties of interest in the case, and build their cases in preparation for trial.
One of the benefits of settlement is that the decision ultimately rests on the parties involved. When a personal injury case goes to trial, the judge has the final say in the dispute. It’s unfortunate that some plaintiffs do not accept early settlement offers believing they can win more in a trial only to wind up with less than they would have had they settled. On the other hand, litigation is sometimes necessary to ensure the plaintiff receives the most compensation available for their claim.
Collecting Damages in a Personal Injury Case
A plaintiff must be able to prove some kind of tangible loss or measurable damage to pursue a personal injury claim. Some of the most common causes of personal injury claims in the US include car accidents, medical malpractice, and defective products. Plaintiffs may suffer physical injuries or develop medical ailments that require expensive treatment. They may lose significant amounts of wealth or property due to other parties’ negligence or intentional fraud. Some plaintiffs experience long-term psychological harm from the actions of others.
If a plaintiff’s attorney can successfully prove that a personal injury defendant is responsible for their client’s claimed damages, the plaintiff can recover compensatory damages that repay them for measurable economic losses like medical expenses, property damage, and lost income. Other damages are harder to assign a monetary value, such as pain and suffering. Since this is a more subjective matter, the court will generally award pain and suffering compensation in proportion to the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries and the amounts of their other compensatory damages.
It’s not uncommon for defendants in personal injury claims to also face punitive damages if their behavior fell outside the scope of typical negligence, involved any criminal activity, or was intentional. Punitive damages aim to punish defendants and discourage similar acts in the future. In California, there is no limit to how much a plaintiff may receive in punitive damages from a personal injury lawsuit.
Why Legal Counsel Is Vital
A personal injury lawsuit may seem like a simple process, but countless variables can come into play in even the most seemingly basic cases. Your personal injury lawsuit could potentially settle within a few months, or it could take years of lengthy court battles to reach a conclusion. One of the most important factors in determining the outcome of your personal injury claim is the quality of the attorney you hire to represent your interests.
If you need answers to specific questions about a recent personal injury, contact Jolly Berry Law today and schedule a complimentary case evaluation.