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Fundamentals of Washington Personal Injury

Personal injury cases are legal matters with the purpose of awarding monetary compensation for harm or injury. The purpose of this type of case is to seek relief or mitigate the damage that has happened to you or your property as a result of another's negligence.

What Are Damages?

The term damages refers to the money being sought in a personal injury case. The purpose of seeking damages is to help compensate for the cost of medical care, lost wages, in-home healthcare, disfigurement, disability, and other harms that may have happened to you or your property because of another person's carelessness or failure to act.

How to File

Determine your jurisdiction. In Washington, you file your personal injury complaint in the district court in the county where the defendant lives or the injury occurred. Most of the forms are available at the court or online. You must file the complaint before the statute of limitations is up. In Washington, you have three years to file a personal injury claim. It is best to file as soon as possible. Delaying can limit the strength of your case.

What Does an Attorney Cost?

Many personal injury attorneys will work on contingency, only taking a fee if you win your case. Most will offer a free consultation. Keep in mind that some court and attorney fees may be incurred regardless of case disposition.

Small Claims Court

In Washington, you can bring a small claims suit for some personal injury cases. The monetary recovery is limited to no more than $5,000. You will need the judge's permission to have an attorney present. Filing fees can be as much as $30. You may not sue the state of Washington in small claims court.

Dispute Resolution

Court time is expensive and lengthy. In an attempt to avoid these pitfalls, alternative dispute resolution is provided by the Washington State Dispute Resolution Center. This neutral third party can provide a fair and non-adversarial mediation option to going all the way to a court trial for a resolution. Fees are based on a sliding scale.

Personal Injury Process

Once you have determined jurisdiction and filed the complaint in court, the pretrial process begins:

  • Your complaint and a corresponding summons is served on the defendant.
  • The defendant will answer and counter claim if appropriate.
  • Preliminary orders may be requested to solve pretrial issues.
  • Discovery begins, where facts about the case are determined.
  • Depositions and interrogatories are shared with the opposing party.
  • The plaintiff replies to counterclaims, if any.

It is often at this point in the process, prior to trial, that mediation or other third-party dispute resolution services help the parties reach an agreement.

Fault Determination

In Washington, fault can be shared. Damages are awarded based on contributory fault law. You may only be awarded damages proportionate to the percentage of fault the defendant contributed. You may not recover damages for any percentage of fault you contributed.

Going to Trial

If all attempts to resolve the dispute fail, a court trial may be necessary:

  • Attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant make opening statements.
  • The facts of the case are shared through witnesses, evidence, and expert testimony.
  • Closing statements are made.
  • Deliberation begins.
  • A verdict is reached and read aloud in court.
  • Damages may be awarded.
  • Funds will be dispersed thereafter.

Dispersal of funds is not necessarily immediate and can take as long as a month. If funds are not paid, the court may garnish the defendant's wages or bank account to obtain payment.

Why Contact an Attorney?

Personal injury cases can be very complicated and stressful, and navigating the rough waters of a trial can be daunting. An attorney is not necessary to file a personal injury complaint, but being properly represented can improve the outcome of your case.

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