Personal injury cases are legal disputes that arise when a party suffers harm as a result of an accident caused by the actions of another. Often times, the responsible person’s insurance company will pay damages to the injured person for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other ongoing expenses. Every case is different, but claims involving automobile accidents, dog bites, medical complications, and product defects are common. While personal injury cases can be formalized through the retention of an attorney, hundreds of minor personal injury claims are filed throughout the country every day. Formal personal injury claims can be determined through litigation and a court judgment or, as is much more common, through informal settlement agreements. There are five things that an injured plaintiff should consider before filing a personal injury lawsuit:
- Statute of Limitations. A statute of limitations is the period of time allocated for a plaintiff to file a lawsuit against a defendant for injuries that were sustained during a particular incident. Generally, the statute of limitations begins ticking when the plaintiff is injured and/or discovers the injury. Within this time frame, a plaintiff must file a claim or risk losing the ability to do so in the future. Like many other aspects of the law, statutes of limitations are established by state law and often vary by the type of injury and/or event. Statutes of limitations can also vary by civil or criminal court distinctions.
- Applicable Law. Before initiating a lawsuit, a plaintiff should research the applicable laws within their particular jurisdiction. Unlike other areas of the law that stem from established statutes such as penal codes and criminal laws, the development of personal injury law has taken place mostly through court decisions and academic opinions. While many states have taken steps to summarize the focus of personal injury law, court decisions remain the main source of law for any case arising from accident or injury. Tort liability varies by jurisdiction and successful plaintiffs must apply the correct law when initiating a new claim. Additionally, since applicable court rulings and laws carry varying weights in different jurisdictions, plaintiffs should be aware of jurisdictional boundaries and attitudes. While one jurisdiction may have a history dealing with a certain issue, a neighboring jurisdiction may lack precedent on that particular issue all together. As a result, it is imperative that a plaintiff research the particular jurisdiction hosting their claim.
- Available Avenues. Once a plaintiff conducts ample research on the applicable law and statute of limitations for their particular jurisdiction, they must then consider the likely outcomes should their case be successful. Typically, pursuit of a personal injury claim follows one of two common paths: a formal lawsuit or an informal settlement. Unlike criminal cases, a formal personal injury case typically begins when a plaintiff, instead of the government, files a civil complaint against another person or entity alleging some form of liability. This liability often manifests as negligence or simple carelessness. While formal lawsuits are a staple of the American judicial system, many attorneys never even see the inside of a courtroom for litigation purposes. In reality, most personal injury disputes are resolved through informal settlement among those personally involved in the dispute, their insurance companies, and their representing attorneys. Settlements commonly take the form of a negotiation process, followed by a written agreement for recoverable damages and further action. In many situations, informal settlement is the most financially sound option for distressed plaintiffs.
- Recoverable Damages. Naturally, plaintiffs want to recover as large a settlement as possible to cover all incurred expenses. Insurance companies, representatives of at-fault parties, want to pay the bare minimum to protect their client and their own interests. Consequently, it is important to discuss and recognize what damages are realistically recoverable in a particular situation. Personal injury cases can be time consuming and complex; therefore, it is important to evaluate the likelihood of victory prior to filing an official suit.
- Representation. A lawsuit requires a detailed analysis of the facts, judicial processes, and local laws. Every victim of an accident should contact a personal injury attorney as they may be entitled to compensation for any incurred expenses. On average, plaintiffs who hire a personal injury attorney after an accident recover three times as much in damages as those who decide to represent themselves. Personal injury attorneys understand how to present claims and negotiate adequate settlements. Additionally, an attorney can protect a plaintiff against costly mistakes such as revealing the wrong information or faulty communications.
The decision to file a lawsuit can have monumental impacts on a plaintiff’s life. Personal injury lawsuits are becoming exceedingly more common throughout the United States with nearly 400,000 cases filed each year. As a result, an interested party needs to be fully informed before pursuing any set legal reparations.