What do I do after an accident?
If you have been injured in an accident, the most important priority is getting medical attention. Assuming that you are not taken to the emergency room immediately, you should take photos or videos of the accident scene and get the contact information of any witnesses. You should not admit fault or apologize to anyone else who was involved, even if it seems like a polite thing to do. Anything that you say in the aftermath of an accident can be used against you if you pursue a claim or lawsuit later. If you suspect that someone else may have been at fault, you should set up a consultation with an attorney to discuss your options. The first consultation is almost always free.
How do I know if I have a case?
You do not need to make this decision on your own. Contact an attorney and set up a free consultation to go over your situation in detail. The attorney will be able to tell you whom you can sue and what you can expect to recover, based on the facts of the accident and the laws in your state. Essentially, in most situations, you will have a case if someone acted carelessly under the circumstances and caused your injuries. Applying this standard is more complicated than it sounds, however, which is why it is important to consult an attorney.
Do I have a case if I do not feel hurt?
You may still have a case even if you do not feel hurt at the scene. The biological response to a traumatic situation like an accident sends a rush of adrenaline through the body, which can temporarily reduce sensations of pain. You may start feeling significant pain or developing other symptoms later. It is wise to consult a doctor even if you do not feel immediate, excruciating pain, since some of the most serious conditions emerge over time.
How long do I have to file a personal injury case?
This will depend on the statute of limitations in your state. A personal injury case may need to be filed within a year of the accident, or you may have as much as four years to file. You should check the rule in your state to make sure that you do not accidentally waive your rights. There are some exceptions to the statute of limitations, but they are very narrow, so you should not assume that an exception applies. As a practical matter, moreover, you should try to pursue a claim as soon as possible while the evidence is still fresh. This will help you prove liability and the scope of your damages.
What do I do if an insurance adjuster calls me?
You should not speak with an insurance adjuster for someone else involved in the litigation. They may seem friendly and sympathetic, but they are almost certainly trying to coax statements from you that would reduce or eliminate the liability of their insured. Tell the insurance adjuster to contact your attorney, if you have retained an attorney, or contact your insurance company, if you do not have an attorney. The same points apply if an attorney for someone else contacts you.
What damages are available in a personal injury case?
The main type of damages is known as compensatory damages, which is further divided into economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are based on tangible, relatively objective costs and losses, such as medical bills, lost income and earning capacity, property damage, and the costs of future treatment. Non-economic damages are more subjective, covering items such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and lost enjoyment of life. Damages must be reasonably quantifiable to be awarded, rather than being speculative. If the defendant has acted in an especially egregious manner, you may be able to recover punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. These are meant to punish the defendant and deter this type of conduct. Punitive damages are rarely awarded but can be substantial, although there are constitutional limits on how much they can exceed compensatory damages.
How much is my personal injury case worth?
This will depend on the specific nature of your injuries and cannot be ascertained until your case has been thoroughly investigated. You can ask personal injury attorneys in your area for a rough estimate, based on similar cases that they have handled. However, you should be aware that attorneys are prohibited from promising that they will recover a certain amount or otherwise predicting the outcome of a case. Any estimate that you receive likely will be vague and qualified. An additional question is how much you can actually collect, which may depend on factors such as the insurance of any at-fault parties, their assets, and your own insurance.
What if I had a pre-existing condition?
You can still get damages from someone else who was at fault for the accident. The damages may be reduced to account for the pre-existing condition, but you can hold another person or entity accountable for aggravating the condition. Someone who interacts with you takes you as they find you, so the question of whether someone without your condition would have been injured is irrelevant. That said, these cases tend to be more complex and may require the assistance of experts, so hiring an attorney may be especially important.
What if I was partly at fault for the accident?
The damages that you can recover if you were partly at fault depend on the state where you live. Only a few states use a contributory negligence rule, which provides that a victim cannot recover any damages if they were at all at fault. In some states, you will be able to recover damages as long as you were not 50 percent or more (or sometimes 51 percent or more) at fault. In other states, you will be able to recover damages as long as you were not completely at fault. The damages will be proportionate to the defendant’s degree of fault. If there are multiple defendants in a case, some states provide that each defendant will be liable for the defendants’ total share of fault if you cannot collect from all of the defendants. The rules in this area are technical and state-specific, so you should consult an attorney for further guidance.
How long will it take to settle my claim?
Very few personal injury cases actually go to trial. The overwhelming majority end in a settlement with the defendant or an insurance company. Unfortunately, the time that it takes to reach a settlement is hard to predict and can vary dramatically. As a general rule, a claim that involves substantial injuries and a significant amount of money will take longer to settle because the insurer will fight harder over it. If the case is complex or liability is unclear, a settlement also may take longer to reach. Hiring an attorney sometimes can motivate an insurer to make a fair offer earlier in the process, since they know that they are less likely to take advantage of you.
What is a release in a settlement?
A release is a document that you sign in exchange for receiving the settlement money. Basically, it provides that you release all of your legal claims against any defendant and their insurer based on this accident. You should be aware that a release usually covers claims not only against any defendant whom you sued or who paid a settlement but also any other potential defendant, including a party that was not involved in the litigation. If you are married, your spouse may need to sign the release too.
How long will it take to get my check?
You should not expect a long delay between getting your settlement and getting your check. Most insurers want to close out their case files efficiently, so they will send out the check within a week or two of signing the settlement agreement. The timing may depend on whether the insurer waits to send the check until they receive your signed release. Once you get the check, if you have an attorney, they will put together a settlement statement. This will state the total amount of money collected and subtract the attorney’s fee, court costs, reimbursements to your insurers (see below), and any other necessary deductions. You will review and sign the settlement statement, and then the attorney will send you a check for the remainder.
How do I pay my medical bills until I get my settlement?
Since the insurance for the defendant will not pay bills until liability is established, you will need to cover these expenses initially. You may be able to use Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage after a motor vehicle accident. Medical Payments coverage or health insurance coverage can apply after any type of accident. If you were injured on the job, you can use your workers’ compensation benefits. Any insurers likely have a right to be reimbursed from the proceeds of any eventual settlement that you receive. If you have no insurance, you should be able to find a doctor or hospital that will treat you under an agreement that they will be paid from your eventual settlement.
How do I make up for my lost wages until I get my settlement?
The insurance for the at-fault party will not pay for your lost wages in the immediate aftermath of the accident. You can use PIP coverage if you were injured in a car crash or another motor vehicle accident, or you may be able to get short-term or long-term disability benefits through your employer. These insurers usually will need to be reimbursed when and if you get a settlement. If you have vacation time, sick time, paid time off, or other forms of “comp” time through your employer, you can use these as well.
What if the accident happened on the job?
If you were hurt on the job, you may have multiple options for compensation. In most situations, you will be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits through your employer. These will cover your medical bills in addition to a portion of your lost wages. Workers’ compensation also may provide vocational rehabilitation assistance and lump sum payouts for certain types of injuries or disabilities. If someone other than your employer or a coworker caused your accident, you may have an additional personal injury claim against that third party. For example, you might be able to sue a manufacturer of workplace equipment if you were injured because the equipment was defective. Workers’ compensation may have a right to be reimbursed from the proceeds of that claim, but pursuing a personal injury claim (if applicable) is usually a smart strategy because you can get more money than you could through workers’ compensation.
Do I need a lawyer for a personal injury case?
Some simple personal injury cases can be resolved without an attorney. For example, perhaps you were in a rear-end collision in which the rear driver was clearly at fault, and in which neither driver was severely injured. You might be able to resolve this claim fairly by negotiating with the insurance companies on your own. However, you probably need an attorney if the facts of the accident are complex, your injuries are significant or unusual, or the at-fault party is contesting liability. If a lot of money is at stake, you should not take a chance on going without an attorney. Also, an attorney almost always will be needed in cases that require expert testimony, such as most medical malpractice and product liability cases.
How do I pay for a lawyer in a personal injury case?
You should not be worried that you do not have the money to pay for a lawyer. Almost all personal injury attorneys take cases at no charge, collecting their fee as a percentage of any settlement or judgment that they obtain for you. Thus, if you get nothing from the case, neither does the attorney. This is known as a contingency fee arrangement. The percentage that an attorney takes from a settlement varies, but it is often around 30-33 percent. It may be higher if you go to trial.