Every tort claim, regardless of its basis, whether intentional, negligence, or strict liability, has two basic issues—liability and damages. Was the defendant liable for the damages you sustained, and, if so, what is the nature and extent of your damages? If you can prove liability and damages, our system of justice will award you compensation for your loss.
What is a typical personal injury case?
In personal injury claims, a common cause of action is negligence. Automobile accidents, the area in which most personal injury actions arise, provide a good example of how the tort system works. To win an automobile personal injury claim, the aggrieved party would need to show that they were injured by a driver who failed to exercise reasonable care because drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care anytime they are on the road. When they breach that duty and your injury results, personal injury law says you can recoup your losses. (Note, though, that the law varies from state to state)
Negligence reaches far beyond claims stemming from car accidents. It is the basis for liability in most personal injury lawsuits, including medical malpractice.
Is there any other basis for personal injury besides negligence?
What happens if I file a lawsuit?
You become the plaintiff in the case and the person who injured you becomes the defendant. Lawyers for each side (and for the insurer) typically begin gathering facts through exchange of documents, written questions (interrogatories) or depositions (questions that are asked in person and answered under oath). This process is called discovery. After discovery, many cases get settled before trial. Only a sPmall percentage of personal injury actions ever go to trial.
What will I get if I win my case?
If you win, a judge or jury awards you money, known as damages, for your injuries. That amount can include compensation for such expenses as medical bills and lost wages, as well as compensation for future wage losses. It also can compensate you for physical pain and suffering. In addition, you may receive damages for any physical disfigurement or disability that resulted from your injury.
What does it mean to settle a case?
Settling a case means that you agree to accept money in return for dropping your action against the person who injured you. You’ll actually sign a release absolving the other side of any further liability. To help you decide whether to accept the settlement offer, your lawyer will be able to provide a realistic assessment of whether a lawsuit based on your claim will be successful. (Settlement also can take place at any point in a lawsuit once it is filed, including before trial or even after a case has been tried but before a jury reaches a verdict.) The decision to accept a settlement offer is yours, not the lawyer’s.
Will the person who caused my injury get punished?
No. Punishment comes from criminal cases, not civil cases. Defendants in civil actions for personal injury do not receive jail terms or stiff fines as punishment. Those are criminal sentences and personal injury cases are civil disputes. (But juries and courts can award what the law calls punitive damages when the defendant’s intentional acts have injured you. These awards are rather rare.)
Does a personal injury lawsuit have to be filed within a certain amount of time?
Every state has certain time limits, called “statutes of limitations,” that govern the period during which you must file a personal injury lawsuit. In some states, for example, you may have as little as one year to file a lawsuit from an automobile accident. If you miss the statutory deadline for filing a case, your case is thrown out of court.
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