Personal injury is part of the law, also known as tort law. If you’re injured, you may be able to file a civil lawsuit with the goal of getting damages for the losses you experienced as a result of your accident and injury. The damages are financial compensation.
The objective of the personal injury system in U.S. law is to allow you to be compensated for the harm you suffer because of the negligent or, less often, intentional behavior of someone else.
There are different scenarios where the rules of personal injury apply. The most common are accidents. Personal injury rules are applicable in situations where someone behaves negligently and then causes harm to another person. Specific examples of accidents include car and motorcycle accidents, slip and fall incidents, and medical malpractice.
Defective products fall into the category of personal injury, as do defamation laws.
Then, there are intentional acts, such as assault and battery. The civil remedies for intentional acts are separate from how the criminal courts handle the situation.
The following are seven big things to know before you file a personal injury claim.
1. You Have a Deadline
You have to file a lawsuit related to personal injury before the expiration of your statute of limitations. Your statute of limitations is the law that limits how much time can pass before a lawsuit has to be filed. Every state has its own deadlines, and they vary depending on the type of case.
For most states, in personal injury cases, there’s a two-year time limit.
The clock starts when your personal injury happens when you discover your injury or when you theoretically should have discovered your injury.
If you don’t file before the expiration of your statute of limitations, you’re permanently prevented from doing so.
2. Make Sure You Keep All of Your Documentation
There are going to be a lot of documents you receive after you’re hurt in an accident. For example, you’ll get emails, bills and receipts, and documents about your medical treatments.
Keep everything. Store it all in one place, and then create a virtual folder with all of your emails. You need to stay organized because if you hire a lawyer, they’re going to want to see all of your evidence and documents.
3. Attorneys Might Turn Your Case Down
Many people think of personal injury attorneys as accepting any case that comes their way, but that doesn’t reflect reality. A personal injury lawyer doesn’t want to put their time and money into something they don’t think they can settle or win or court. There’s no upside for them to do so.
They’ll tell you upfront if they’re not going to take your case, and they should let you know why. Sometimes it might be for a reason not related to the strength of your case. For example, the attorney could have a conflict of interest.
In other situations, it may be due to their perceived weakness in your case.
If an attorney does turn you down, don’t be afraid to ask why because this will help you decide if you should stop the process or keep looking for an attorney well-suited to your needs.
4. Insurance Companies Usually Pay the Compensation
In personal injury cases, the money you might be awarded as damages usually doesn’t come directly out of the pocket of the person you were involved in an accident with. Instead, their insurance company will negotiate with your attorney and then pay your compensation.
If someone isn’t insured or is underinsured and you’re awarded damages, they would be responsible for paying those. If the person doesn’t have enough assets, they may not end up having to pay you, no matter what the court judgment says. Your attorney will let you know if they think this could be an issue.
5. You Don’t Have to Pay Most Attorneys Upfront
In many legal situations, when you hire a lawyer to represent you, you pay them a retainer upfront, or you pay them hourly. Sometimes you do both. You might also pay a flat fee upfront for their representation.
Personal injury cases are different. Many legal professionals who work in personal injury charge on a contingency fee basis.
This means that your attorney doesn’t get paid unless you recover damages. Then, if you settle out of court or you win in court, your attorney will get a percentage of your compensation—usually 33%.
This is beneficial because it means you can get the benefits of having a lawyer represent you, even if you don’t have the money to pay them upfront.
The fact that they’re paid on a contingency fee basis is one reason why a personal injury attorney will usually tell you directly they can’t take your case. They don’t want to waste their own time if there’s no chance of recovery because they won’t get paid.
6. The Majority of Personal Injury Cases Are Settled Out of Court
Insurance companies representing defendants in a personal injury case are often eager to settle out of court, and it’s beneficial for plaintiffs as well. Your attorneys will negotiate a sum agreeable to both parties to keep the claim out of court.
This is cheaper, faster, and less public. Plus, if the case is settled, the defendant doesn’t have to admit fault.
Even though many of the cases do settle without going to court, they still take time. It can take months or more to settle a case, and then it can take six weeks or so after that for a check to arrive.
7. Not Every Injury Leads to a Personal Injury Claim
Finally, even if you’re hurt, and you believe it’s the fault of someone else, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically a good idea to file a claim. For example, if your injuries are minor, even though someone else may, in fact, be negligent for your injuries, you’re not likely to recover enough money to make it worth your time.
Again, a good attorney is going to lay this all out for you when you meet with them.