Frequently Asked Questions About Personal Injury Lawsuits
Q. Why Do I Need a Personal Injury Attorney?
If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence- car accident, defective products, premise liability, etc.- you may receive money for medical bills, rehabilitation therapy, loss of wages and pain and suffering. Initial insurance settlements will NOT offer compensation for all these points; an attorney, however, knows how to negotiate and fight on your behalf.
Hiring a personal injury attorney is optional and may be ill-advised in minor or non-injury accidents, for example. However, if your injuries are serious or you’re unhappy with the insurance offer, an attorney can step in and fight for just compensation.To see if you can successfully represent your self, read: How Do I File a Personal injury Lawsuit?
Plus, most injury attorneys offer free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis, meaning there’s little risk for the injured. For specific scenarios please read: When You Should and Should Not Hire a Car Accident Attorney.
Q. What is Negligence in Personal Injury Lawsuits?
Negligence is when someone’s actions fall short of reasonable standards for protecting a person from harm; for example, a distracted driver causing an accident. To win a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove the defendant is responsible for and caused their injuries, meaning they acted in negligence.
Generally, there are four necessary elements to prove someone acted negligently:
- Duty of Care: You must prove the defendant had a legal obligation to provide or adhere to a standard of reasonable care. It’s simpler than the definition sounds however. For example, all drivers have a duty to their passengers and other drivers to responsibly operate their vehicle while companies have a duty to ensure their products aren’t defective.
- Someone Breached Duty of Care: After showing the defendant owed duty of care, you must show how they failed to act in a reasonable manner. Examples may be a drunk or distracted driver or a doctor committing a surgical error.
- The Breach Caused Your Injuries: You must show a direct correlation between the injuries you are suing for and the above breach. For example, if a doctor leaves a sponge inside a patient after surgery which in turn causes additional hospital stays and treatments, the doctor’s error is the direct cause.
- Proving Monetary Loss: The plaintiff must now prove their nature and extent of their injuries to justify the sought compensation; this is why it’s necessary people never deny medical examinations immediately after an accident. Medical records with corresponding hospital bills, physical therapy and said bills, and any out-of-pocket expense related to the injury (bandages, parking fees, medications) are all examples. Without this proof, it is highly unlikely you will win your case.
Q. Can I Sue if I’m Partially Responsible for the Accident and Injury?
California is a comparative fault state meaning the victim may still sue if they are partially to blame but may only receive a certain percentage of the awarded money. Under CA’s law, even if a court finds a plaintiff to be 99 percent responsible, they’re still eligible for compensation. If this is a concern of yours, an experienced injury attorney will help argue the defendant’s role in the accident.
Q. The Insurance Company Says I Don’t Need an Attorney to Complete the Claim- Is This True?
Maybe; but if you’ve suffered serious injuries or have extensive property damages, it’s always worth scheduling a free consultation with an attorney. Insurance companies are for profit and while you pay them every month, they work hard to ensure they pay you as little as possible when you do file a claim.
If you take their first offer, you are surely losing out on potential money- insurance adjusters do not take into account future medical bills, loss of wages or pain and suffering. Always remember non-attorneys are not allowed to offer legal advice; if you think you deserve more money or at the very least want to explore your options, contact an attorney.
Q. What’s the Best Way to Handle Working With Insurance Adjusters?
Insurance adjusters will typically contact you within one to three days after filing a claim; if they need to asses the damage in person, it may take a few additional days. Never admit to fault when talking to either party’s insurance company, never agree to release medical records and never accept an initial settlement offer. It’s important you remember the insurance company is a for-profit company and is interested in paying you the least amount possible. When in a serious accident with severe injuries or property damage, take the time to think through all your answers.
Even if you don’t think you need to hire an injury lawyer, if negotiations stall or their offer fails to cover medical expenses, meet with a few local attorneys who will review your case free of charge.
Q. How Serious Does My Injury Need to Be to Hire An Accident Attorney?
If you were injured in an accident and sought medical attention and/or suffered serious property damage, you should hire a personal injury attorney. If you’re unsure if your injury is “serious” enough, meet with an attorney to discuss your circumstances. Bring any paperwork and pictures, proof of medical bills, time off work, etc. to help explain your case. These initial consultations should be free.
The Liljegren Law Group handles small, medium and large damage cases, from car accidents with minor injuries to wrongful death. Scott Liljegren will meet with you during a free consultation and after assessing your case, will provide honest and practical advice on the likelihood of a successful personal injury case.
Q. Will I Need to Hire an Expert for My Lawsuit?
While this will depend on your unique accident, injury, and claims within the lawsuit, various experts are often called to testify in personal injury lawsuits to either prove or dispute a plaintiff’s claim. Some may simply act as consultants- no court appearance- who will help the attorney gather and present the necessary real and circumstantial evidence. Experts may include medical professionals economic and/or financial advisors, accident reconstruction specialists and other specialized experts like engineers or design specialists.
But how much will this cost you? That depends- and it’s an important question to discuss with various law firms during your free consultation. Some firms will pay for the experts upfront and will deduct from your awards while others may not ask you upfront. Either way, you’ll wan to discuss their policies with hiring experts and how payments are handled (if you win OR lose your lawsuit).
Q. Do You Have To Go To Court for a Personal Injury Claim?
No- options for personal injury claims include settling outside of court, mediation or heading to trial. Most injury lawsuits are settled before ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.
However, part of an aggressive attorney strategy will be acting, at the very least, as if you are willing to take the case to trial. To get the most money for your claim, you should hire a San Diego personal injury attorney with an impressive success record and strong negotiation skills to get the most out of settlement talks.
Q. How Long Do I Have to File a Personal Injury Suit in California? (Statute of Limitations)
Under California law, a person has two years from the date of the personal injury to file a claim. After this deadline, the courts will most likely refuse to hear your case.
Q. How Do Contingency Fees Work?
Most common for personal injury attorney fees, contingency fees are when the lawyer agrees to take on the case for a fixed percentage of the client’s winnings; however, if they lose there is no fee. This allows victims who are overwhelmed with medical bills or loss of wages to hire an attorney while also ensuring the attorney puts in the necessary work to win. The average contingency fee is in the 30 to 40 percent range, but may be negotiated depending on the extent of injuries and overall work before winning.
Q. How Long Does a Personal injury Lawsuit Take?
There is no exact timeline for a personal injury lawsuit as it depends on the extent of the accident and injuries, whether the case goes to trial and the competency of the injury attorney. Below is a general breakdown of the average personal injury lawsuit.
- Month One – Three: Your main focus should be on recovery and treatment for injuries. Be sure to keep records of all diagnoses, treatments and bills to help prove negligence when your lawsuit begins. During this time it’s likely insurance adjusters will repeatedly call you (from all involved parties)- DO NOT give a recorded statement, approve medical releases or accept an initial offer until you meet with an attorney. Many injury lawyers will meet you at the hospital when necessary.
- Month Three – Six: Your claim will be filed and the settlement negotiations should begin. If no settlement is reached, your case will go to trial. This can take anywhere from months to years to complete; follow your trusted attorney’s advice on if trial is worth it for your unique case.
Q. How Do Injury Lawyers Estimate What My Lawsuit is Worth?
While we may like to think personal injury lawsuits are more about punishing the wrongdoers, the biggest motive is in the monetary reward. Personal injury lawsuits can end with multi-million dollar settlements in some cases. But before a judge determines the amount, you have to decide to sue. In the initial consultation, attorneys will often provide a range – an estimate- or what they think your injury is “worth” or “valued at” in the court of law. For logical reasons, they can’t guarantee an amount- if you lose, there is no award. So how do they come up with this estimate?
While there’s a long list of factors, most experienced attorneys rely on three main factors:
- Past Case Valuation/ State Laws: How much has the attorney won for previous clients with similar injuries or medical expenses? Many states also limit how much a plaintiff may receive- especially when the suit is against the government.
- Total Cost in Damages: This includes anything and everything from medical bills, future therapy treatments, property damage and attorney fees.
- Pain and Suffering: This is often the most substantial part of awards and includes compensation for physical pain, emotional distress and mental anguish directly caused by the defendant’s negligence.
Q. How Long Does it Take to Receive My Rewarded Compensation or Settlement?
While there is no one answer, it generally takes at least two and upwards of six weeks to complete the settlement process once an agreement is reached. During this time, paperwork must be signed, a check received and the proper deductions made.
See the next question for more specific details. For more information on the length of trials, settlements and mediation please read: How Long Does It Take to Receive Insurance Money or Trial Awards?
Q. What Do I Need to Do Before I Can Receive the Money?
First, the involved insurance company will require you, and in some cases your spouse, to sign a release forfeiting your right to further sue for your injuries in exchange for the agreed upon settlement. Then your attorney will pay off any unpaid medical bills and reimburse the insurance company for medical bills, depending on the agreement. Finally, the attorney will deduct his fees and any other costs associated with the lawsuit. After all deductions are made, you’ll receive the leftover balance in a check processed by the attorney’s office.