Personal Injury in a legal sense is when someone hurts someone else. The “someone” doing the hurting can be an individual person, or they can be a company. The person being hurt can be hurt physically, or in other ways, such as their reputation might be hurt. Either way, the bottom line is that harm and loss was caused and therefore a personal injury protection claim can be made in order to compensate the injured party.
A Guide to Personal Injury Claims
- Types of Personal Injuries
- What to Do First
- The Initial Offer
- The Value of Your Claim
- Common Defenses
- Choosing An Attorney
- Reasons to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
When you or a family member have experienced personal injury caused by an individual or corporate entity, you will be faced with a multitude of concerns not normally considered in daily life. Questions will arise around medical bills, compensation, insurance coverage, and whether hiring a lawyer is going to be necessary.
At a time when you are feeling your most vulnerable, these complex logistical details can become an overwhelming burden. Thankfully, there is help.
There are two parts to any personal injury or wrongful death claim. The first part is a liability question. Is the other person or corporation responsible for the damages that have been done? The second part of the claim is about damages. This is a description of how much the injured party has lost, and therefore how much they are due. By determining who is going to be liable and the severity of the damages, the basis of a personal injury case is outlined.
This guide to personal and bodily injury claims is designed to provide you with an overview of the procedure, and give you an idea of what to expect as you make your way through the maze of the personal injury legal world.
Types of Personal Injuries
Personal injury claims are made in a civil court. This is different than most of the court cases we see in movies and TV shows, which feature a criminal court. In criminal cases, the state brings forward a case against the alleged perpetrator of the crime, in order to determine if they are guilty or not guilty. The state asks the court to provide punishment for the criminal based on their unlawful acts. It is important to be aware that civil court is quite different from criminal court.
In civil law for personal injury, the individual who has been injured sues the responsible party and a case is made against the person or organization who is blamed for the injury. The injured party asks for a monetary award to compensate them for their losses. Although money can not bring back someone’s health after an injury, or fully restore someone’s reputation after being slandered, it can pay for medical care or lost wages. “Pain and suffering” monetary awards will compensate the injured party to some extent, but they are not specifically designed to punish the responsible party.
The legal question to be considered in a personal injury case is whether or not the defendant is actually responsible for causing injury to the aggrieved party. If you have been injured, it is important to determine if you have been injured wrongly. If a person or a business is in any way responsible for your injury, you could decided that a legal claim for damages is appropriate. Be certain to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer, such as those at Acadia Law Group, in order to understand your options. Not every injury is wrongful, and not every personal injury will be legally compensated.
These are some of the most common types of situations that can cause most personal injuries, although this list is not comprehensive.
- Auto Accidents – A car accident is the most common type of personal injury claim. Many medical issues arise, both temporarily and permanently, for those who have been involved in an auto accident. This includes drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Repairs to vehicles, medical costs, lost wages and many other losses are part of auto accident claims.
- Slip and Fall – In a Slip and Fall case the injured person sues the property owner for a lack of maintenance of their premises. There must be enough negligence to cause adequate danger of the injury.
- Dog Bites – Dog owners are generally responsible for any injuries caused by their dogs. The laws vary from state to state, but a claim for a loss due to a dog bite can be made in all 50 states. Usually these only include medical bills, but they could include lost wages or other damages.
- Medical Malpractice – If a healthcare professional is negligent in their care of a patient, a medical malpractice claim may be in order. The laws are very specific, and vary state to state. You will need to prove that not only was the care provider was negligent, but that their negligence caused your injury, and that there is a specific loss as a result.
- Toxic Tort – Exposure to a dangerous chemical that causes an injury with a loss is called toxic tort. This could be contaminated water, work related chemicals, or even medications.
- Assault, Battery, and Intentional Torts – When someone has been tried or convicted of assault or battery in criminal court, they can then be sued by the injured party in civil court. The injured party can claim damages, no matter if the harm was accidental or intentional.
- Defamation of Character Through Libel or Slander – You can make a personal injury claim if someone lies about you and your reputation is injured. There must be a loss incurred, the same as other personal injury cases. Stating an opinion is not considered defamation, and telling the truth, no matter how it impacts someone’s reputation, is always an excellent defense.
What to Do First
Always seek the appropriate medical attention, first and foremost. Call 911 if necessary. Visit a doctor. Make sure that the injured party receives the medical attention they require, before all else. If there is any risk of further injury, secure the scene and make sure everyone is safely out of harm’s way.
As soon as everyone is safe, document what has happened. Be thorough and as detailed as possible. These days, everyone owns a smartphone which makes the documentation process much easier. Take photos of any vehicles involved, the area surrounding the accident, and any damage, plus take videos of witnesses as they describe what happened and provide you with their contact information.
Make sure you keep every single receipt. Every single one. Medical bills, prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines (like Tylenol), car repairs, clothing tailoring or replacement if your clothes were damaged, bicycle repairs. Keep everything. Your losses can only be calculated if there is evidence of your costs.
Don’t judge the seriousness of an injury right away. Many times, internal injuries are not obvious until later. Visit a doctor and wait for a professional evaluation.
Contact your insurance company. Whether you will be filing an insurance claim or not, contact your insurance company as quickly as possible. The other person or organization may have an insurance company they have contacted, so it is important to alert your provider about what happened before they are contacted by the other company. Discuss how to handle any immediate medical expenses, as your insurance company may cover them. You may be required to pay initial expenses out of your own pocket.
The Initial Offer
Usually, insurance companies are involved in some way whenever a personal injury claim appears to be a possibility. The claims adjuster is the person whose job it is to oversee the paperwork, and keep in contact with you. The adjuster may work for your insurance provider, or they may work for the defendant’s insurance company. Either way, they do not work for you. In this situation, the only person working for you is the attorney you hire.
The adjusters are just doing their jobs when they file and settle your claim, but their priority is to their employer. The insurance company wants to mitigate their losses by paying as little as possible to you. They know that this is an upsetting and difficult time, and that emotions run high. You are talking about your life, while they are just doing their job. They use your confusion and stress, and your desire to just get things over with, and they hope you will accept an offer well below what they know your claim is worth.
Another common tactic we see here at Acadia Law Group is when insurance companies try stalling. They delay and avoid discussions about settlements, knowing they can wait you out. This is especially common when the injury has caused the person to be out of work. The insurance company knows that eventually you will need the money, so if they wait long enough they can offer you less. There are times when accepting a lower settlement amount sooner is a good idea, but certainly not always. Any decisions regarding a settlement should always be discussed with your personal injury lawyer first.
The Value of Your Claim
The value of a personal injury case begins as a simple math question, and then gets more complex from there.
The easiest place to start are direct costs. Medical bills and receipts you kept can be tallied up easily enough. Car rentals, car repairs, and bike repairs are easy to confirm with receipts. Lost wages can be easier to prove for people on salary or with hourly wages, but can be more difficult for those on commission, contract or who make tips.
Pain and suffering is another fairly straightforward math question most of the time. A specific diagnosis will have a specific amount attached to it. What can prove to be more difficult is attempting to claim more than what is considered average or typical based on your condition. Everyone experiences trauma and pain differently, and a testimony from your psychologist or psychiatrist may help to show that your award should be increased as a result of your personalized reactions.
Your lawyer will be able to develop a sense of your pain and suffering during the progress of your claim, either with a jury or during the negotiations with the insurance companies. The insurance companies may not be moved by the descriptions of your pain, but they know that a jury will care.
Usually, personal injury cases are settled out of court, and often quite soon after the injury has been determined to have medically stabilized. If the insurance company does not make a reasonable offer for compensation, you and your lawyer may need to prepare for a lawsuit. Often disputes get quite far along and then still settle out of court, but the process still has to be followed because the final outcome is uncertain.
Individuals, organizations and insurance companies who are defending against your personal injury claim all have lawyers representing them, too. They will present a defense in order to mitigate their losses, which simply means they want to pay out as little as possible. The insurance company is a for-profit organization and paying out settlements is unprofitable. They must answer to their shareholders and directors, so they will not pay out big settlements without first pursuing every possible legal defense.
Here are some common defenses. Do not take it personally when they use these defenses against you. Remember, this is their job.
- Comparative Fault – This is where they blame you for part of the accident. There are different rules in different states, but it is possible that they may suggest that you contributed to the accident in some way, and this may affect your claim. If it is decided that the accident was mostly your fault, your claim could be invalidated, even if they have some fault.
- Assumed Risk – If you hurt yourself bungee jumping, it will be considered that you assumed some risk. This obviously dangerous activity, especially when you sign a waiver, means you accept the risk of the danger in the activity. In this case, you may have no grounds for a claim.
- Previously Injured or Sick – Your medical records for years prior may be examined in light of your personal injury claim. Your condition before the accident will be compared to your condition afterwards. If you had a previous injury or disease that might affect your situation, it is possible that you could be rewarded less, or even nothing. This negative tactic is often quite successful, so be sure to consult with a personal injury lawyer at Acadia Law Group to be sure your claim will not be affected.
These common defenses are used in almost every personal injury case. Your personal injury lawyer will be ready to deal with these and any other defense against your claim.
Choosing An Attorney
The two most common myths about hiring a lawyer are:
- Insurance companies compensate fairly, without legal representation.
Insurance companies are out to make a profit, not to be nice. When you hire a personal injury lawyer you can be assured that your claim is valued accurately, and nobody is asking you to accept an offer that is too low. Once you have hired a lawyer, the insurance company will eventually need to have legal representation, too. In order to mitigate their losses, they will often simply offer you a reasonable amount to be done with the process and avoid the costs of litigation.
- I can’t afford a lawyer.
Exactly for this reason, Acadia Law Group accepts personal injury cases on a contingency basis. What that means is that you pay nothing up front. Your lawyer does all the work for you, dealing with the insurance company, and even going to court if necessary. They manage all of the oversight of your whole case, taking the stress off your shoulders as much as possible. Then, once your claim is successful, only then are they paid a portion of the settlement (out-of-court agreed amount) or award (court-awarded amount). A free, initial consultation will give you the details you need to understand how your lawyer will be paid, and how you can afford it, no matter your current financial situation.
Reasons to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
When you or a loved one have been wrongly injured, consult with a personal injury lawyer at Acadia Law Group for help in a variety of ways:
- Full Case Oversight – Your personal injury lawyer will manage all of the necessary paperwork, negotiate with the insurance companies, litigate, investigate, find and hire expert medical and other types of witnesses, and close the case when all is done. This helps reduce the stress of dealing with all of the overwhelming details, while trying to recover from injuries or care for an injured loved one.
- Increased settlements and awards – Cases that are managed by attorneys statistically recover higher amounts.
- Changes in the Laws – Laws change, for good or ill. It is important to have a personal injury lawyer who is on top of the changes that could affect your case.
Having a lawyer who is working for you reduces your stress as you heal from an injury, and increases the chances of a successful outcome. The litigation will process faster, even if insurance companies try to stall.
Here are some questions we are commonly asked here at Acadia Law Group:
- When will my personal injury claim be settled?
The short answer is, “It depends.” There are so many factors that it is almost impossible to give an accurate answer. The first thing it depends on is your health. If you fully recover fairly quickly your case may proceed quickly, too. If you require ongoing treatments, it may take time before the doctors decide you are medically stable, at which point the legal case moves forward. At this point, your attorney will attempt to negotiate for a settlement with the insurance company. Sometimes, this process goes very quickly. Other times, a settlement is not agreed upon within a reasonable period of time, so your attorney will then need to file a personal injury lawsuit. Then it depends on the state where the injury occurred, what the laws are that cover civil law time periods, and additional factors like backlogs in the court systems. It can take quite a long time.
- Will I need to go to court?
Maybe, but probably not. Most of the time the skilled lawyers at Acadia Law Group are able to settle cases out of court. Sometimes that means even without filing a lawsuit, but other times the filed claim is resolved before the final court date. If your case does make it to court, your case will be presented by an experienced trial attorney to maximize your award.
- Do I need to include the settlement or award amount as income on my taxes?
Not usually. You are most likely to receive what are called compensatory and general damages. This allows you to be compensated for lost wages, medical and other expenses, plus pain and suffering from the injury. Please be sure to consult both your personal injury lawyer and your accountant or other tax preparer to be certain.
Help is a Phone Call Away
A personal injury lawyer provides many services to their clients. You or your loved ones who have been injured can feel relief when the decision has been made to hire a personal injury lawyer from Acadia Law Group.
The family can concentrate on healing, and leave the legalities to the lawyers who will:
- File paperwork
- Negotiate with insurance companies
- Value the claim
- Oversee witness statements
- Find and secure expert testimony
- Move the legal process forward
It is important to contact legal counsel soon after the personal injury has occurred. There are statute of limitations laws regarding the timing of different aspects of the legal process. It is important to have a legal representative watching the legal clock of your claim.
Personal injury claims are not about punishing the person who did wrong, but about compensating the person who was hurt by the actions of another. If you, or a loved one, have been injured because of the actions of another person or business, contact Acadia law Group today to discuss your options. Send us an email or call (801) 816-2525. We look forward to helping you.