Personal Injury Law Frequently Asked Questions
Posted on August 26th, 2019 by Zane Cagle
Personal injury law has existed for a very long time. The law has changed and developed over time, of course, but the basic idea remains the same: if someone has harmed you, he or she owes you compensation. Accidents and injuries happen all the time, in all kinds of ways. According to the CDC, in 2017, there were 169,936 accident fatalities across the country. In addition to financial losses, a person who has suffered a personal injury may face a long and difficult recovery.
However, personal injury law provides a legal remedy in the form of damages for a victim’s losses. The primary goal of personal injury law is to create legal protections to help make injured parties whole again. If you have been injured in an accident because of someone else’s negligence, then you need to know the facts about personal injury law.
What Is the Basis for a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
One of the most important factors in personal injury law is the issue of liability or “fault”. Just because you sustained an injury does not automatically mean that someone else must pay for your expenses. To recover damages in a personal injury claim, you must have an actionable claim or legal grounds that hold the defendant accountable.
Most Missouri personal injury cases are grounded in the legal theory of negligence. In such cases, the injured person must show that the at-fault party failed to exercise reasonable care and that this failure caused the injuries. Negligent conduct may mean an act or a failure to act when there was a duty to do so. Judges and juries often use two theories to determine whether a defendant’s actions were negligent.
First, the reasonably prudent person theory is a standard of conduct. If a reasonable person would have responded differently under the same circumstances, the defendant’s action may constitute negligence.
Second, the four elements of negligence expand on this theory. The four elements of negligence are: (1) the existence of a legal duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff, (2) the defendant’s breach of that duty, (3) the plaintiff’s sufferance of an injury, and (4) proof that the defendant’s breach caused the injury.
Applying these elements to the facts of an accident may prove more difficult than it first appears. For example, does the existence of a legal duty of care means that the defendant was responsible for preventing all reasonably foreseeable injuries? Could the actual injury have been reasonably foreseen by the defendant?
A plaintiff must prove all four elements of negligence to succeed in a personal injury lawsuit. For example, the plaintiff must have suffered damages to hold the defendant liable. So, even if the defendant was negligent, the personal injury lawsuit might fail because the negligence did not result in any harm to the plaintiff. Often it is difficult to determine if you can meet all four elements, thus an expert attorney can evaluate your case for essential elements to make a claim for injury due to negligence.
What if the injured person (the plaintiff) was partly at fault for the accident? Missouri follows a pure comparative negligence rule, which means that the injured party may recover damages even if he or she was partially at fault.
How Does Car Insurance Affect My Claim in Missouri?
There were 57,270 people injured in Missouri car accidents in 2017, and the majority took place in the state’s population center of St. Louis and the surrounding area. Car insurance laws vary from state to state. However, Missouri follows a traditional “fault” system when it comes to financial responsibility for car accidents. Missouri prescribes to liability insurance and does not prescribe to no-fault insurance. A driver in certain circumstances, may file a claim under their own insurance policy, pursue a claim against the other driver’s insurance policy, and/or file a lawsuit against the other driver.
What Are the Most Common Personal Injury Claims?
There are many different types of personal injury claims. When most people hear the words personal injury, they immediately think of car accidents. While car accidents are a major cause of injuries, there are many others, including injuries that result from premises liability, defective or dangerous products, and other situations in which a person suffers harm due to the negligence of another individual or entity.
Car accidents are a common cause of injuries in every state, including Missouri, as noted above. If you suffered injuries from a car accident that wasn’t your fault, you should seek compensation for your losses.
Slip and fall accidents can happen anywhere, and they can cause serious injuries. According to the National Floor Safety Institute, falls account for more than eight million hospital emergency room (ER) visits each year. The cause of someone’s fall as well as the location are determining factors when considering if one can file a slip and fall personal injury claim.
We all put our trust in medical professionals. However, sometimes doctors or other medical care providers injure patients because of surgical errors, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, or improper use of prescription drugs. When a medical facility or provider fails to meet the established duty of care, you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Product Liability Injuries
We rely on the products we buy—such as power tools, child safety seats, or medical devices—to make our lives safer, easier, or just better. But instead, they sometimes cause us harm. Product liability claims pertain to personal injuries suffered as a result of the failure of the product or dangerous products.
In general, if a dog attacks or bites someone, the owner is responsible. Some states have a one-bite rule, which provides some liability protection the first time the dog injures someone, provided the owner had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. Missouri, however, has a specific statute deals with dog bite injuries as does Illinois. Both state laws provide that a dog owner is strictly liable for injuries caused by a dog, regardless of the dog’s past behavior.
People get hurt on the job all the time. The law can be complicated when it comes to workplace injuries. However, if you suffer a workplace injury and your employer does not have workers’ compensation, or another party is responsible for your injury, you may consider filing a lawsuit to recover compensation for your injuries through the third party. Many Missouri employers do have Missouri worker’s compensation insurance, thus if you are injured at work making a worker’s compensation claim is necessary.
Assault, Abuse, or Negligence Injuries
If you suffered harm as the result of someone’s intentional behavior or negligence, in addition to any criminal court proceedings filed by a prosecutor, you should ask a personal injury lawyer if you can sue them in civil court.
A wrongful death action is a lawsuit brought when someone dies due to the negligence or intentional act of another party. The death can occur in many different circumstances, including from medical malpractice, a car accident, or nursing home abuse.
What Is the Process?
A personal injury lawsuit begins when you file a summons and complaint in the proper branch of the state courts. You must properly serve both documents on the defendant to provide him or her with notice of the lawsuit. By and large, when someone who is not an attorney files a petition, many things can go wrong. It is always best to have an attorney file this complaint and make sure all appropriate summons are filed.
Before the trial, both parties engage in the discovery process. This is an opportunity for them to request evidence and witness information from one another. Both sides usually schedule depositions, which are examinations and cross-examinations of the opposing party and witnesses outside the courtroom, under oath. Attorneys may bring preliminary issues (motions) before the court for pre-trial rulings. Usually, this process of discovery and preliminary motions takes quite a long time.
Eventually, if the case is not settled, the trial begins. In a typical personal injury case, the trial may last several days depending on the type of case and severity of injuries. Both sides present their evidence. The judge or jury will determine if the defendant is liable and, if so, how much the defendant must pay in damages to the injured party.
Are There Alternatives to Trial?
Many cases settle out of court, or even before starting a lawsuit. If the parties agree on a settlement out of court, a judge or jury is not required to reach a verdict. Instead, the victim’s personal injury lawyer negotiates with the opposing side to try and reach a settlement. All of the parties—such as individuals, attorneys, and relevant insurance companies—will participate in negotiations to determine if the case can be settled out of court. Usually, if you agree to settle your claim, you agree to not file a lawsuit or agree to dismiss the current suit. If the settlement is not accepted, the case may go to trial.
Mediation and arbitration are also methods of settling a claim. In these situations, the lawyers and clients meet and present the facts and arguments before an impartial legal representative. These methods cost less than a lawsuit and sometimes resolve a case more quickly.
No matter what path your case follows, your attorney will investigate and evaluate your claim to determine whether you can establish negligence and the extent of your injuries. Most attorneys will have teams of accident reconstruction specialists, highly qualified experts, medical experts, and other professionals who analyze the incident to determine what happened, who was at fault, and the extent of the injuries involved. Your attorney will also determine whether the other party has insurance or other assets to compensate you.
Ultimately, each of our attorneys operate under the same mission. Each case is unique and belongs to the client. We pursue the best course of action in agreement with the client to attain the best possible result. Settlement is not always the desire of the attorney in some cases, however, what the individual attorney “wants” is not relevant. The course of operation that is best for the client is what determines our course of action. Those decisions are done together with the client.
What Type of Compensation Might I Recover?
Personal injury victims often suffer catastrophic personal and financial losses. Their accidents and injuries may alter their lives forever. The two basic forms of damages are known as compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are intended to make an injured person whole again. Economic damages are concerned with financial loss or expenses, such as medical bills, the cost of rehabilitation and future care, lost business or wages, adaptive vans, etc. Noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, loss of companionship or consortium, disability, or disfigurement, do not have an obvious monetary value. Punitive damages are intended to punish unethical or bad behavior. Missouri caps punitive damages in medical malpractice cases at $400,000 or $700,000, depending on the injury’s severity.
If you prove someone was at fault for your injuries, your damages may include compensation for the following:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages—this includes lost wages due to medical care
- Any permanent disfigurement or disability resulting from the injury
- Any property damages resulting from the incident
- Your emotional distress, including anxiety and depression
- Loss of consortium or other interference with your family relationships
- The cost of hiring someone to do tasks you are unable to do, such as household chores
- Any additional costs that result from your injury
How Should I Prepare for My Personal Injury Lawsuit?
If you have suffered a personal injury, the first thing you should do is obtain medical care for your injuries. Even if you do not think that you’ve sustained a life-threatening injury or believe your injuries are minor, you should see a doctor, because many injuries are not immediately noticeable. For some injuries, such as brain injuries, you may not experience symptoms for days or weeks following the accident.
Give all the evidence and information to your attorney as soon as possible. The sooner your attorney has the information, the sooner he can start advising you on the best course of action. You should take the following steps following your accident:
- Prepare a list of all medical professionals who have treated you and include copies of all medical records that you have in your possession. These will be very important in proving your case. Most people will not have full copies of all of their medical records, but your attorney can request those records on your behalf.
- If possible, take pictures of your injuries, any vehicles involved, and the accident scene, including signs.
- Keep records and receipts for all financial losses resulting from your accident.
- Keep a journal. Over time it may prove helpful to have a detailed record of how your life has changed since your injury.
Is There a Time Limit for Filing a Lawsuit?
According to the law, personal injury victims are allowed a limited window of time during which they may file a lawsuit against the party responsible for their injuries. The statute of limitations is strictly applied, and once that time expires, you can no longer file a lawsuit with the court. Your lawyer will advise you on the appropriate time limit for your case.
Do You Need More Information?
The goal of a personal injury lawyer is to protect your rights and fight for you to receive compensation for the full cost of your injuries. Personal injury cases are complex, with many rules and deadlines. If you sustained an injury, the best course of action is to consult an experienced personal injury attorney right away.
Call us toll free 1.800.685.3302 or locally 314.276.1681