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Personal Injury FAQs
- What is personal injury?
- What is a “tort”?
- How do I know if I have a personal injury claim?
- What if the accident was partly my fault?
- What is the statue of limitations for filing a personal injury claim?
- I have been hurt in an accident, and want to file a claim for my injuries. What should I do?
- Who can be held liable in a slip and fall case?
- Can a person recover damages for injuries sustained on someone else’s property?
- Should I cooperate with the insurance company?
- Why should I hire a lawyer?
What is personal injury?
Personal injury law, or tort law, protects the rights of victims of negligence, recklessness, malpractice, and the inaction of others. A personal injury is any physical or mental injury to a person as a result of someone else’s negligence or harmful act. Here are some of the most common accidents that result in a personal injury:
- Automobile accidents
- Truck accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Slips and falls
- Professional malpractice
- Workers’ compensation
- Wrongful death
- Dog bites
- Property damage
What is a “tort”?
A tort is a civil wrong, giving rise to a cause of action, independent of a contract. When a person violates his/her duty to others created under general law, a tort has been committed; a tort occurs when someone deliberately or through carelessness causes harm or loss to another person or his or her property. The four elements present in a tort lawsuit are:
- The existence of a legal duty owed by a person to others
- The breach of the duty by one person
- The breach of the duty being the “proximate cause” of damages suffered by a person
- Damages incurred by a person.
A successful tort lawsuit will contain all of these elements. Auto accidents,medical malpractice claims, slip and fall claims, and asbestos exposure are all types of torts. People injured by a tort are eligible to recover for loss of earnings capacity, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and – in some cases – punitive damages.
How do I know if I have a personal injury claim?
In order to have a personal injury case, you must be able to show that you have been injured – either physically or, in some cases, emotionally. Also, you must be able to prove that someone else – the “defendant” – caused your injury under a negligence, strict liability or intentional misconduct theory.
How much money can I get from my personal injury claim?
That depends on the type and extent of your personal injury. The two main types of personal injury damages you may be eligible for are compensatory (actual) damages and punitive (criminal) damages. The damages may include the following:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Physical disability
- Permanent scars
- Emotional trauma
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment
- Loss of love and affection
- Mental disability
- Property damage
- Out of pocket expenses
What if the accident was partly my fault?
Even if an accident or injury was partially your fault you may still have a personal injury claim, based on the concept of contributory negligence or comparative negligence. The term contributory negligence describes the actions of an injured person that may have also caused that person’s own injuries. For example, someone who ignores a “No Running” sign in the mall and trips and falls while running may be found to have been careless and at fault for any injuries suffered.
Comparative negligence means that the fault of all parties is compared, and the amount of damages to be paid is reduced by the percentage of his or her own fault. In doing so each person is held accountable for the amount of damage that their negligence caused.
What is the statue of limitations for filing a personal injury claim?
It varies by state, but usually ranges from 1 to 6 years. There are different statutes of limitations defined for each type of personal injury claim. Different timelines apply to negligence cases v. professional malpractice claims; property damage v. wrongful death lawsuits; medical malpractice claims v. pharmaceutical litigation cases.
In some instances a statute of limitations can be extended based on a delay in the discovery of the injury. For example, some illnesses may not be diagnosed for years after exposure to a harmful product or chemical.
To obtain more details regarding statutes of limitations that may apply to your case, consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer.
I have been hurt in an accident, and want to file a claim for my injuries. What should I do?
First, get prompt medical treatment for any injuries you may have. Then, call a personal injury attorney. He or she can help to protect your legal rights, but proper medical care should be your first priority.
Here are some additional steps to help you obtain a fair settlement, or help your claim process proceed more efficiently:
- Write down as much as you can about the accident itself. List your injuries and any other losses you have suffered as a result of the accident.
- Document the conversations that you have with people involved in the accident or the injury claim.
- Preserve evidence of who caused the accident and what damage was done by collecting physical evidence and taking photographs as soon as possible. Photographs should include the scene of the accident from all angles, the surrounding area, your injuries, and any property damage.
- Obtain the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all potential witnesses of the accident.
Who can be held liable in a slip and fall case?
In slip and fall cases, there are often a number of people or entities that may be held responsible for someone’s injuries. For instance, if a business rents space from a property owner, both the property owner and the tenant (the business) may be named as defendants by someone injured on the property. In that case, the tenant is known as a possessor of the property, and has a duty to use reasonable care to prevent injury to those on the premises under its control. A possessor might also be a party who manages or maintains the property, such as a management company.
Can a person recover damages for injuries sustained on someone else’s property?
In most cases, yes. A property owner has a duty to protect members of the public from injury that may occur on the property. The injured person may be able to recover money for those injuries if he or she can prove that the owner failed to meet that duty. However, the nature and extent of the property owner’s duty will vary depending upon the facts of the situation and the jurisdiction in question.
The status of the injured visitor is key:
An invitee is someone who has been invited onto the land because that person will confer some advantage to the property owner, such as a store patron. An owner of property is required to exercise reasonable care for the safety of the invitee.
A licensee is someone who enters upon the land for his or her own purpose, and is present at the consent, but not the invitation, of the owner. For example, a door-to-door salesman who enters the property and stays to converse with the owner about a product that he or she is selling is a licensee. The owner’s duty to a licensee is only to warn of hidden dangers.
A trespasser is an individual who enters onto the property without the knowledge or consent of the owner and who remains there without any right or permission. Trespassers have difficulty suing property owners because the property owner has little duty toward the safety of individuals who are not intended to be on the property.
Other states focus on the condition of the property and the activities of both the visitor and owner, rather than considering only the status of the visitor. In these states, a uniform standard that requires the owner of the property to exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of invitees and licensees is generally applied.
The property owner’s duty of care toward children is greater than the duty owed to adults. Even if the children are trespassers or engage in dangerous behavior, the property owner must still take precautions to prevent foreseeable harm to children.
Should I cooperate with the insurance company?
If you’ve hired an attorney, you should resist talking to any insurance companyother than your own and instead refer the insurance company to your attorney. Avoid any written or recorded statements with out the approval of your attorney because they could later be used against you. Do not sign an authorization allowing the insurance company to obtain your medical records. With out an attorney first reviewing the release, you might be enabling the other insurance company access to personal information.
Why should I hire a lawyer?
The insurance companies have people looking out for their rights. Who is looking out for yours?
A personal injury lawyer will provide professional legal representation to obtain the maximum amount of compensation for your injuries, consistent with the nature of your injuries and losses. An experienced personal injury attorney will investigate the circumstances in which you were injured, identify all negligence parties, interview any witnesses, and define a strategy to hold accountable those responsible for your injury. Additionally, a lawyer can investigate all sources of recovery and ensure that your medical expenses are submitted to the proper source for payment.
Contact us online or by phone at 202-331-0600 or toll free 1-888-797-4242 for a free consultation.