Whether you suffer an injury due to medical malpractice, an automobile accident that renders you incapable of working, or damages due to a corporation's negligence, you may want to file a personal injury lawsuit where others are deemed responsible and ordered to pay compensation. Though judicial systems are similar nationwide, Alaska personal injury law differs in several aspects.
In What Venue Will I File My Lawsuit?
A civil case can be filed in the borough where the suffering party resides or in the jurisdiction where the accident occurred. In Alaska, which court handles the lawsuit depends on the amount of compensation the injured person, or plaintiff, is requesting. Cases asking for up to $100,000 in damages per defendant are filed in the district court. The superior court is the required jurisdiction for lawsuits seeking in excess of $100,000 in damages.
How Quickly Must I File a Lawsuit?
For personal injury litigation in Alaska, including medical malpractice cases, plaintiffs are permitted two years from the time the incident occurred to pursue lawsuits.
What Is the Procedure?
Assuming the situation cannot be resolved through an insurance claim, the plaintiff first prepares and files a document called the Complaint. The plaintiff must serve defendants with the Complaint within 120 days, and every individual, business or organization that is sued is permitted 20 days in which to respond. The defendant's response sometimes incorporates counterclaims—allegations that the plaintiff negligently caused the injuries or that the plaintiff should financially compensate the defendant for the defendant's injuries.
How Will Damages Be Determined?
The lawsuit can ask for reimbursement for medical expenses and compensation for losses ranging from income to future earnings. Economic damages are limited to $500,000 in medical malpractice cases. Plaintiffs can also request punitive damages—compensation aimed at punishing the defendant. Alaska law spells out limits for punitive and non-economic damages that vary by type of case and the amount of the defendant's assets. The state caps punitive damages at triple the economic damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. In medical malpractice cases involving severe injury, non-economic damages—compensation for pain and suffering, for example—are limited to $1 million or the individual's remaining life expectancy times $25,000, whichever is greater. Alaska is a comparative negligence state, so the jury can award compensation even if the plaintiff was at fault, but the award will be reduced in proportion to the percentage of the blame assigned to the plaintiff.
Preparing for Trial
As attorneys prepare their lawsuits, they exchange information through the discovery process where requested information or evidence must be disclosed. Interrogatories, written questions that must be answered honestly, often are exchanged. Many times, out-of-court testimony, called a deposition, is taken. And the plaintiff may be required to undergo physical or mental examinations.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
The overwhelming majority of personal injury lawsuits are settled before trial, often through arbitration, mediation, neutral evaluation, or some hybrid. Alternative dispute resolution procedures are confidential—a situation that is appealing to defendants—and take place before a neutral person. Arbitrators hear evidence and rule on the case, while mediators attempt to assist the parties in formulating agreements. A neutral evaluator assesses the case and can also help motivate the parties to a resolution.
Going to Trial
The trial commences with the selection of 12 jurors in superior court, six in district court. Both sides present evidence in hopes of convincing the jurors to issue a favorable verdict. At least five-sixths of the jurors must agree on a verdict. Either side can appeal an unfavorable verdict, including the amount of damages.
How Much Will Litigation Cost?
Many litigators in personal injury lawsuits take their compensation as a percentage of the damages awarded in the case. Alaska places no limitation on how much attorneys can earn through contingency arrangements, but approximately 30 percent of the total recovery is a customary level.
Contact an Attorney
This article is a general overview of personal injury law in Alaska. For specific questions about your case, consult a local attorney.