When you've been injured by someone else's carelessness, it's important to take some steps to help make sure your claim is settled fairly and quickly:
- Write down everything you remember about the accident or injury, such when and where it happened; the names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses, police officers and insurance company representatives (or company or workers' compensation representatives if it was a work-related injury)
- Talk to a personal injury lawyer before making any statements, written or verbal, to insurance company adjusters or representatives
- Let anyone you think may be responsible for the injury know right away that you intend to file a claim against them
- Gather and keep evidence, such as photographs of a car accident or injury scene; clothing; damaged personal belongings; etc.
How Do I Determine Who Is at Fault?
In most cases, you must prove the person who caused your injury was negligent. That is, he didn't use reasonable care. In most states, you must prove:
- The person who caused your injury owed you a duty
- The other person broke or breached that duty
- You suffered damages
- The other person's failure caused your injury
Many states follow the pure doctrine or rule of contributory negligence. If your carelessness or negligence helped cause your injury, you're barred from recovering damages from the other person. In other words, if you're the least bit negligent and it helped cause the accident or injury, you won't receive anything.
If you've been injured by a consumer product, the manufacturer or seller may be responsible under strict liability law. Generally, it makes some people responsible for damages caused by their products regardless of their "fault." Under many state laws, you need to prove:
- The product was defective, which made it unreasonably dangerous
- You used the product the way it was supposed to be used
- The defect caused your injury
- You suffered damages
Many states' joint and several liability rules make everyone responsible for your injury liable for all of your damages. This means any one defendant can be made to pay everything.
In medical malpractice cases, you must prove negligence through the use of expert testimony. An exception is when ordinary, average people can understand how the doctor's lack of care or skill caused your injury.
What Is My Claim Worth?
Under many state laws, the person who injured you is responsible for:
- Past, current and future estimated medical expenses
- Time lost from work, including time spent going to medical appointments or therapy
- Any property that was damaged, such as your vehicle
- The cost of hiring someone to do household chores while you couldn't do them
- Any permanent disfigurement or disability
- Emotional and physical pain and suffering
- A change in your future earning ability due to the injury
- Any other costs that are a direct result of your injury
In some cases you may need an expert to explain your injuries and why you're entitled to certain damages. This is very common in medical malpractice cases. A lawyer will know what type of expert witness to hire to best prove your damages.
How Long Do I Have to File a Legal Claim?
In most personal injury cases, you only have two years to file a lawsuit against the person who injured you. If your lawyer hasn't been able to come to an agreement with any involved insurance companies or defendants, you definitely want to file a lawsuit before the two-year statute of limitations runs out.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can I still file a lawsuit if I accepted a settlement offer from the other person's insurance company before I contacted you?
- The insurance company seems to be taking me and my injuries seriously. Why do I need to hire a lawyer?
- Is the other person's insurance company entitled to look at my medical records without my permission? Should I let it have access to my records?
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