Personal injury law is the section of law pertaining to civil lawsuits for physical injuries or other damages caused by negligence. When one party injures another due to a reckless, careless, negligent, or intentionally harmful act, the injured party can pursue compensation for any resulting damages through a personal injury claim against the responsible party. Depending on the defendant’s actions and the severity of the plaintiff’s damages, the potential recovery from a personal injury lawsuit could be substantial.
How a Personal Injury Lawsuit Works
The first step in pursuing a personal injury lawsuit is to ensure the claim meets the appropriate statute of limitations. Every state imposes a statute of limitations or time limit on filing personal injury claims. For example, the statute of limitations in Alabama is two years, starting on the date of the injury. In the event a victim cannot immediately identify the cause of an injury, the discovery rule can allow the statute of limitations to toll or delay until he or she discovers the cause.
A plaintiff must file an official complaint to the defendant and file a copy of the complaint with the local courthouse. The defendant has the opportunity to respond, and the vast majority of personal injury lawsuits never make it to trial. It is generally in the best interests of both parties to seek a speedy settlement. A defendant may be willing to pay a bit more than expected to have a matter settled more quickly. A plaintiff may also benefit from a quicker settlement for a marginally lower amount than he or she could potentially win at trial in the face of mounting expenses and lost income from an injury.
Proving Negligence and Collecting Compensation
Once the plaintiff has served the defendant with the complaint, the two sides may agree to meet for settlement negotiations. Of course, the defense will want to verify the plaintiff’s evidence and the two sides will share their evidence during the discovery phase. During this phase, the plaintiff will generally look for any and all evidence of the defendant’s liability and available avenues of compensation. Meanwhile, the defense will look for evidence that damages the plaintiff’s credibility or proves the defendant’s innocence.
To prove negligence, a plaintiff and his or her personal injury attorney must prove a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care for a given situation, failed to uphold that duty of care, and directly caused the plaintiff’s claimed damages. The plaintiff’s attorney must also prove the claimed damages were the result of the defendant’s actions and not some other cause.
For example, if a plaintiff sues for a back injury caused by a car accident with a negligent driver, the plaintiff will likely need to produce medical records showing no back issues prior to the crash. However, plaintiffs may claim compensation for a defendant’s negligence exacerbating an existing injury or aggravating a preexisting medical condition.
When to File a Lawsuit
Potential personal injury plaintiffs must weigh the potential recovery from a personal injury lawsuit against the cost of pursuing the lawsuit. Some attorneys charge by the hour spent working on a client’s case, and these legal fees can add up very quickly and potentially even eclipse the available recovery in a claim. Most personal injury clients choose attorneys who offer contingency fee billing.
With a contingency fee agreement, the client does not pay any up-front costs and only pays legal fees if the attorney wins the case. If the attorney loses the case, the client pays nothing. This is advantageous for personal injury clients with limited assets who could not afford legal fees out of pocket with a traditional billing structure.
Ultimately, anyone who has suffered injuries and/or economic losses due to the negligent actions of another party may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help a potential plaintiff determine his or her best legal options and the potential recovery available from a successful case.