A personal injury case arises when someone else's actions cause you harm, whether accidental or deliberate. The legal process for resolving these cases can be lengthy, especially if you go to trial, and Montana has specific laws you must follow to file and pursue your case.
Choosing the Jurisdiction
Personal injury is a civil matter. It is generally handled in one of Montana's District Courts. For the most part, you will file your complaint with the court located in the district where your injury occurred.
Montana's Statute of Limitations
The state limits the amount of time you have to file your claim after your injury occurs. In most cases, you must file within three years of the incident in which you were injured. For assault cases, you have two years to file.
Medical malpractice claims are slightly different. You have three years from when you discovered the injury or five years from the incident that caused it.
Damages You May Seek
You may receive monetary damages for both financial and non-financial losses due to your injury. Financial losses include such items as costs for your medical treatments, lost wages and loss of future earning ability. One of the most common non-financial forms of loss is pain and suffering.
The amount you can receive depends largely on the type of injuries and their severity. Long-lasting or permanent injuries entitle you to a larger award than minor injuries that heal quickly.
How Comparative Fault Affects Your Damages
Comparative fault rules allow you to receive damages even if you contribute to the incident in which you were injured, within limits. Montana's comparative fault rule states that you may recover damages as long as your fault is “not greater than the fault of the defendant or the combined fault of all defendants...” However, your damages are reduced by your degree of fault.
The Discovery Phase
In preparation for trial, your lawyer will attempt to uncover (or discover) all the relevant facts surrounding your case. The defendant's lawyer will do the same. Both sides may submit written questions to the other side, called interrogatories. You must return written answers, under oath. You, the defendant and any witnesses may also have oral interviews called depositions.
Either side may also request various types of physical evidence or documents, such as witness statements, medical records or photos.
Resolving Your Case Without Trial
Many personal injury cases are actually settled through negotiations and never go to trial.
If you are unable to negotiate a settlement on your own, mediation may help. In this process, a trained mediator helps both sides communicate and resolve differences. The mediator cannot make any decisions for either side.
Another option may be arbitration. It differs from mediation in that the arbitrator actually makes a decision for resolving the case, similar to a judge in a bench trial. This decision is usually legally binding.
Personal Injury Legal Costs
Bringing a lawsuit generally involves lawyers fees, as well as court costs and other expenses. Many lawyers charge a percentage of your award to handle your personal injury case (called a contingency fee). If you do not recover damages, you do not pay the lawyer.
Court and other costs can include such things as filing fees, copying fees and payments to expert witnesses. If you win, your award may include having the defendant pay these costs.
Seeking Legal Advice
Each personal injury case is unique, and the best way to proceed will depend on the facts in the case. An experienced attorney can increase your chances for a successful resolution.