A personal injury claim may occur when someone is injured by the carelessness of another or by an intentional act, by no fault of his or her own. Such injuries can be severe and life-altering; therefore, compensatory damages seeks to compensate for these injuries.
Statute of Limitations
In order to file for a personal injury lawsuit, you must file within a specific period of time. This time period is referred to as the statute of limitations. This period is different in each state, but in Washington, D.C., the limit is three years.
You must file your claim in the correct jurisdiction. Typically the jurisdiction is the county where the defendant lives or where the injury occurred. The paperwork for the claim must be filed out in full with case details, and a fee will apply.
After you file your personal injury claim, a set of circumstances will play out. This process is usually:
- A complaint is made and filed in court by the plaintiff.
- A summons and copy of the complaint will be served to the defendant.
- Preliminary motions may be filed to get court decisions on matters prior to trial.
- The defendant will answer the complaint and perhaps counterclaim.
- The plaintiff will reply to counterclaim if applicable.
At any point in this pretrial process, an agreement can be formed. This is how most cases are disposed of, as trial is costly and incurs a lot of time. If the parties cannot agree on their own, a third and unbiased person can mediate between the two.
The purpose of the complaint and pursuant legal actions are to receive compensatory damages. These damages seek to compensate for lost wages, future lost wages, medical costs, in-home care fees, pain, suffering, disability, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation and indignity, and other losses, including loss of consortium or marital sexual relations.
There are few states that apply the contributory negligence rule, which can be seen as harsh. Washington, D.C. also follows this rule. The law means that if the plaintiff was at all at fault or contributed to his or her personal injury, the plaintiff cannot recover any damages whatsoever.
Trial Prep and Trial
In order to get ready to go to trial, information is gathered about the case. Both sides go through the discovery process of written questions and answers and interrogatories, or oral questioning, as in depositions. The findings are shared with the opposition. Sometimes expert witnesses are hired, and medical examinations are requested. Jury selection, or voir dire, may take place if a jury trial is required. Plaintiff and defendant make opening statements, deliberation occurs and a judgment is reached. Damages may be awarded.
Cost of Personal Injury Case
Personal injury cases are not free. Fees for filing and processing are only the beginning. Often, lawyers will work on a contingency basis. This means the attorney will get paid if you win your case. Certain fees may still be your responsibility, regardless of whether you win or lose the case. Additionally, some courts will waive fees or discount them if financial need can be demonstrated.
Please note that there is no substitute for the advice of an attorney. State laws vary widely and the legal process can be complex. For understanding the possible damages and obtaining the best outcome, speak with a personal injury attorney.