Q: How do I know if I have a personal injury case?
A: First, you must have suffered an injury to your person or property. Second, you should consider whether your injury was the result of someone else's fault. It is not always necessary to have a physical injury to bring a personal injury lawsuit. Personal injury claims are often based on a variety of non-physical losses and harms. In the case of an assault, for example, you do not need to show that a person's action caused you actual physical harm, but only that you expected some harm to come to you. You also may have a case if someone has attacked your reputation, invaded your privacy, or inflicted emotional distress upon you. (Back to Top)
Q: How soon after I am injured do I have to file a lawsuit?
A: Every state has certain time limits, called "statutes of limitations," which govern the amount of time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit. In some states, you may have as little as one year to file a lawsuit arising out of an automobile accident. If you miss the deadline for filing your case, your claims can be dismissed. Consequently, it is important to talk with a lawyer as soon as you receive or discover an injury. (Back to Top)
Q: What should I bring with me for my meeting with a lawyer?
A: You should provide a lawyer with any documents that might be relevant to your case. Police reports, for example, contain eyewitness information and details about the conditions surrounding auto accidents, fires, and assaults. Copies of medical reports and bills from doctors and hospitals will help demonstrate the extent and nature of your injuries. Information about the insurer of the person who caused your injury is extremely helpful, as are any photographs you have of the accident scene, your property damage, and your injury. The more information you are able to give your lawyer, the easier it will be for him or her to determine if your claim will be successful. If you haven't collected any documents at the time of your first meeting, however, don't worry; your lawyer will be able to obtain them in his investigation of your claim. (Back to Top)
Q: What is "negligence?"
A: The critical issue in many personal injury cases is just how a "reasonable person" was expected to act in the particular situation that caused the injury. A person is negligent when he or she fails to act like the standard "ordinary reasonable person." The determination of whether a given person has met his/her "ordinary reasonable person" standard is often a matter that is resolved by a jury after presentation of evidence and argument at trial. (Back to Top)
Q: What if I can't prove someone's negligence caused my injury? Is there any other basis for personal injury liability besides negligence?
A: Yes; some persons or companies may be held "strictly liable" for certain activities that harm others, even if they have not acted negligently or with wrongful intent. Under this theory, a person injured by a defective or unexpectedly dangerous product, for instance, may recover compensation from the maker or seller of the product without showing that the manufacturer or seller was actually negligent. Also, persons or companies engaged in using explosives, storing dangerous substances, or keeping dangerous animals can be strictly liable for harm caused to others as a result of such activities. The theory behind imposing strict liability on those conducting such activities is that these activities pose an undue risk of harm to members of the community. Thus, anyone who conducts such activity does so at his own risk and is liable when something goes wrong and someone is harmed. The people who create certain risks are thus made accountable. (Back to Top)
Q: Is there a minimum personal injury settlement amount?
A: No, there is no minimum or maximum settlement amount. The amount of a settlement in a personal injury case depends on lots of factors, including:
• The nature and extent of the injury,
• The amount of economic damages (such as lost wages and medical bills)
• The amount of time the injury is expected to last
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Q: What is a proper contingency fee?
A: An attorney's fee is usually negotiated, and depends on the complexity of the case, the time at which it settles, and the anticipated costs that may be invested. In California, 40% is the fee that is typically charged as the maximum fee if the matter is litigated through trial or arbitration. The only way to know if your attorney is willing to consider a lower fee is to ask. If there isn't much of a fault ("liability") issue, you may be able to find a less expensive lawyer. The skill and reputation of your lawyer is very important, though. A 40% fee to a highly skilled, well-respected lawyer will in all probability yield a higher overall recovery to you than a 33 1/3% fee with less experienced counsel. (Back to Top)
Q: Are medical bills included in a bodily injury claim?
A: The term "bodily injury claim" usually refers to a "personal injury claim". "Economic damages" would include, but aren't limited to:
• Lost wages
• Medical bills
• Rental car expenses, etc.
General damages include:
If you settle your bodily injury claim, it must include all the types of damages available to you, or you'll likely lose your right to recover for those losses. (Back to Top)
Q: How do I collect my personal injury award?
A: If the person against whom you have the judgment has insurance, the easiest thing to do is simply to notify the insurance company of your judgment (if they're not already aware of it). The insurance company will usually just write a check for the damages up to the limit of the insurance policy. If the person against whom you have the judgment is uninsured, collecting won't be as easy. You must have the judgment "entered" with the court and then seek to "enforce" the judgment. There are actually attorneys who specialize in collecting judgments, and it would be a good idea to consult with one. (Back to Top)
Q: Do lawyers receive their fee percent before or after the medical expenses are paid?
A: The attorney's fees paid will be based on the retainer agreement between you and your lawyer. Read the contract carefully. Some retainer agreements provide that attorney's fees are calculated on the gross settlement (before the medical bills are paid) and some provide for payment of fees after medical expenses are paid (the "net" amount). (Back to Top)
Q: If I have been hurt in a car accident and I want to file a claim for my injuries, what's the first thing I should do?
A: There are a number of things you can do in the first few days and weeks after an accident to protect your right to compensation, such as: 1) write down as much as you can about the accident itself, your injuries and any other losses (such as wages) you've suffered as a result of the accident; 2) make notes of conversations that you have with people involved in the accident or the injury claim; 3) preserve evidence of who caused the accident and what damage was done by collecting physical evidence and taking photographs; 4) locate people who witnessed the accident and who might be able to help you prove your case; 5) notify anyone you think might be responsible for the accident of your intention to file a claim for your injuries, especially if a government agency or employee may be involved; and 6) contact a personal injury attorney to evaluate and pursue your claim. (Back to Top)