If you (or a loved one) have experienced an accident or an injury, you may be wondering about your legal rights. There’s an entire area of law that specializes in personal injury, but if you’ve never encountered this subset of law before, you may be confused as to how these lawsuits go about, and whether your experiences fall under the right parameters.
Those who have experienced physical, mental, or emotional pain and are looking to file a personal injury lawsuit should understand the basics before undergoing what can sometimes be a lengthy judicial process. Read on to learn more about the category of personal injury law, and the steps you may want to take if you’re considering this type of claim.
What Are the Types of Personal Injury?
Not every injured person will have the legal standing necessary to bring a lawsuit forth under a personal injury claim. Personal injury law, also known as tort law, generally applies to physical or emotional harm that occurs due to the actions of another party. There are generally three potential parties who could be at fault for your injury.
This could be another person — for example, you were in a vehicle accident where someone else was at fault. It could also be the fault of a corporation — perhaps a nursing home or hospital made a treatment mistake, or you were harmed by a medication linked to a disease. And finally, your bodily injury may have been caused by a government employee, or the injury occurred on government property.
There are also nuances in the ways in which harm is committed. Personal injury cases can be the result of an intentional act, something done on purpose, or negligent harm, which is simply a failure to act or meet a certain legal duty of care. Either way, your injuries are still the result of someone else’s carelessness. When you file a suit against another person or business, they (or their insurance company) will be responsible for your medical expenses and other financial needs, as related to the case.
As mentioned, a car accident is one of the main types of personal injury lawsuits, but there are many ways in which injured parties may need to pursue legal action. People who have injuries as a result of property damage, at the hands of their healthcare provider, or who have been at the receiving end of the intentional infliction of violence can all qualify for personal injury claims.
Classifications of Personal Injury
In American law, there are usually three classifications of personal injury:
- Bodily injury
- Pain & suffering
- Emotional distress
Bodily injury refers to a physical injury that occurred, such as broken bones or a concussion after a vehicle accident. Bodily injury is often important to assess as it can lead to medical expenses and/or lost wages for the injured party.
Pain and suffering are slightly harder to assess, and usually require that the injured person consults with a mental healthcare provider to assess pain and suffering as a result of an injury — i.e., scars, long-term mobility issues, or other serious ramifications on a person’s body. Pain and suffering can also incur medical costs.
Emotional distress is harder to pursue in civil cases, as it often refers to the trauma that someone incurs from an incident — i.e., depression as a result of sexual abuse, or anxiety as the result of a defamatory statement. Remember, you have a confidential relationship with your lawyer and should share all relevant details of your injury in order for them to best represent you.
What To Do If You’ve Been Injured
If you’ve been injured in someone else’s care, you want to make sure you are prepared in the event that you put together a personal injury case. Here are some recommendations on what you should do following an accident or injury:
- Keep track of all of your medical expenses. One of the major factors behind personal injury lawsuits is the rapidly rising costs of medical bills, so keeping the costs of any medical treatment due to your injuries organized will come in handy later, and save your lawyer time.
- Take photo and video evidence. If your injury is related to property damage, take immediate documentation of the issue. Any visible injuries, like bruises or cuts, should also be documented as they will be useful in building your case. If you develop a health condition, meet with a legitimate physician so that this development is on file. If you were sexually abused, seek medical treatment and document your injuries.
- Write an immediate account of what happened. Your memory may change over time, so jot down quick notes after your injury or accident to help keep track of the situation. If you believe that another party did not act like a reasonable person at the time, make note of this.
If You Think You Have a Personal Injury Claim
If you experience a car accident, believe you’ve been through medical malpractice, or have generally suffered harm and believe it is someone else’s fault, your next step is to seek out a personal injury lawyer. There are several important things to know before deciding to pursue a lawsuit.
Firstly, you should make sure that the law firm you’re seeking counsel from is trustworthy and reliable. Most of the time, a personal injury lawyer will provide a free evaluation to assess your case, as they will only want to take on clients whose personal injury cases they think they can win.
Any lawyer you choose must have the correct board certification from the American Bar Association. In order to receive this, the attorney receives referrals from others in the legal community and has experience trying personal injury cases in court.
Establishing a secure attorney-client relationship is paramount, as you’ll likely be sharing a fair amount of sensitive or confidential information with your lawyer. You should also note that many personal injury cases can take months, to even years, before you recover damages.
When meeting with your lawyer, you should discuss whether there is a statute of limitations in place on your injury. Most of the time, the injured party has a set amount of time in which to file a personal injury claim, beginning when the injury occurs or is discovered. This statute of limitations varies by state, and your lawyer can advise on this.
How Do Personal Injury Claims Proceed?
If you’ve met with a law firm or personal injury lawyer and determined that your injuries are the result of someone else’s carelessness, they will agree to handle your case on a contingency fee basis. This means the law firm will receive a percentage of your compensation when you settle your case, which is normal for personal injury claims.
You’ll likely be dealing with a civil case, which means you as a private individual are filing a suit against another individual, corporation, or government entity. Criminal cases are handled by the government, whereas a civil case can be settled by both parties and their lawyers (and, often, with the input of the insurance company).
Your lawyer will help you assess the damages of your case, or how much the other party owes you for your various losses. Calculating the financial toll of your injuries isn’t easy, but an experienced lawyer will know how much your personal injury lawsuit is worth.
Most of the time, a personal injury case is settled without needing to go to trial. This is where a lawyer becomes important, as they’ll handle the settlement paperwork and ensure that the responsible party pays for any existing medical bills and any other expenses that are agreed upon between the two parties.
If you do decide to go to trial, you’re at risk of incurring punitive damages. This is one of the ways that a court attempts to keep personal injury lawsuits in civil court.
Depending on the specifics of your case, you may be able to settle in just a few months — but it can also take years. Once your case is settled, expenses (such as medical bills) will need to be paid. Then, your lawyer will be paid, based on the earlier agreed-upon contingency fee. Finally, the plaintiff will receive a check.
If you’ve suffered bodily injury, pain, suffering, or emotional distress as a result of an injury or accident, you should meet with a lawyer to discuss your legal rights. You can often connect with a lawyer online or over the phone for consultations, and get a better sense of the prospective length of your case and how much it may be worth.
Personal injury law covers a wide range of incidents and issues, beyond the basic vehicle accident. Make sure to diligently keep track of your own expenses and injuries, and speak candidly with your lawyer, to ensure that your case proceeds smoothly.