Accidents happen all the time. Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death among Florida residents ages 44 and below. They are the third leading cause of death across all ages, after heart disease and cancer. The rate of unintentional injuries in Florida was 13.43 percent higher than the national average. Rates of motor vehicle injuries, falls, drowning, pedestrian, and pedal cyclist accidents were extremely high. Many of these accidents are innocent and cause little or no harm. However, some accidents can have devastating, life-altering consequences.
You may have been injured by an intentional act, or as the result of negligence on the part of someone else. Perhaps the accident seems simple and straightforward to you, and you believe that legal action will result in a quick judgment in your favor. You may be wondering whether you should hire a personal injury lawyer. You are not legally required to hire an attorney to handle your personal injury lawsuit. However, the question is whether it is in your best interest to have an attorney.
Some accidents and injuries involve complex legal issues or medical concerns. In those cases, an attorney has the skills and resources necessary to guide you through the process. Even in less complicated cases, the insurance company’s goal is to minimize the amount of money you receive. Keep in mind that the insurance companies have teams of lawyers and adjusters who begin evaluating your injury claim right away. While this may be your first contact with the legal system, they deal with these issues daily. Therefore, representation by an experienced personal injury lawyer greatly improves your chances of winning your case and receiving fair compensation for your injuries.
Types of Personal Injuries
Personal injuries can happen under all kinds of circumstances; however, here are some of the common types of injuries:
- Car, motorcycle and truck accidents;
- Boat accidents;
- Bus accidents;
- Pedestrian accidents;
- Bicycle accidents;
- Traumatic brain injuries;
- Spinal cord injuries;
- Medical accidents, such as birth injuries, incorrect diagnosis or failure to diagnose, surgical errors, anesthesia errors, emergency room errors and other forms of medical malpractice;
- Slip and fall accidents, such as slipping and falling on wet or slippery spots, or unsafe stairs;
- Workplace accidents: including injuries caused by workplace machines or equipment, or work-related illnesses;
- Defective product accidents, including defective toys, dangerous cribs, defective drugs, defective medical devices, dangerous consumer products; and
- Animal bite accidents.
Do you have a legal claim?
You may receive compensation for a personal injury by the filing of a personal injury lawsuit in court, or as a result of an insurance claim filed with the other party’s insurer, or in some circumstances, filed with your own insurer. To make an injury claim, you usually need to prove that the person against whom you are making a claim was somehow negligent and that their negligence led to your injuries. Most people understand what negligence means, but they may not fully understand the legal implications of negligence. The term negligence can apply to many situations in which someone acted without due care. Jurors serving on civil cases in Florida must apply the legal definition outlined in Jury Instruction 401.4, which states that:
“Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care, which is the care that a reasonably careful person would use under like circumstances. Negligence is doing something that a reasonably careful person would not do under like circumstances or failing to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under like circumstances.”
Florida is a pure comparative negligence state, which means that the injured person can still recover damages even if he or she was partially at fault for causing the accident in which they were injured. However, the plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced in proportion to the amount of their fault.
The person making a claim has the burden of proving elements such as fault and damages by a preponderance of the evidence. That means you must prove it was more likely than not that the facts you are claiming about the cause and extent of your injuries and the other person’s liability. Even if your case settles before going to trial, a strong case improves your negotiating position.
The four key factors to negligence are:
- A duty exists when a person has a legal obligation to act with reasonable care.
- The breach is the failure to perform a duty. For example, drivers have a duty to drive within the legal speed limit. Breaking the speed limit is a breach of duty.
- Causation is the relationship between the breach of duty and resulting harm.
- Harm is the injury suffered by the victim. Often this means physical damage, but it may also mean mental damage or other special forms of damages.
Not every personal injury case rests on the issue of negligence. There are rules that specifically apply to cases such as workers’ compensation. Also, when it comes to proving negligence, not all cases are proven in the same way. For example, methods of proof are different for medical malpractice cases than a dog bite or a slip and fall case.
What’s the difference between a trial and a settlement?
In a personal injury case, such as a car accident, there are two ways for the victim to collect compensation from the negligent person. Either the defendant or insurance company offers a settlement that the plaintiff accepts, or the plaintiff takes the case to trial. The opposing side may make a settlement offer before a lawsuit is filed, during the trial process, and even while a jury is deliberating. If the parties reach a settlement agreement, the plaintiff signs a release and gives up claims arising from the incident. Personal injury cases often settle outside of court. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only four percent to five percent of the personal injury cases in the United States go to trial.
Why settle a case? A judge or jury may award the injured party more money, but there’s no guarantee. Trials are stressful, and most people want to put the whole matter behind them and get on with their lives. However, settlements are not always possible. Sometimes a defendant believes they are not responsible for the incident, or the parties cannot agree on the amount of damages. Then the injured person may have to file suit.
What does a personal injury lawyer do?
What a personal injury lawyer actually does depends on the type of case and where they are in the process of a case. Mistakes and delays in the early stages of a case can weaken your case or diminish its value, so it is important to have a lawyer involved early. It is important to know that all states have time limits or statutes of limitations for lawsuits. It is essential to file your claim within those time limits. Your attorney will advise you as to the appropriate laws. There is more to obtaining fair compensation for injuries than you might think. Even a case that appears simple at first may turn out to be highly complex. Trying to go it alone puts your rights at risk. Your attorney’s work may include:
Many personal injury lawyers offer a free case evaluation. If they accept the case, many attorneys handle personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. Therefore, they do not charge attorney’s fees until after they have obtained a settlement or damages in court. One of the challenges in evaluating a personal injury case is identifying responsible parties.
A personal injury firm should have the skills and resources needed to gather evidence. The evidence will be used to support the victim’s claim. Gathering evidence may include obtaining police reports, locating witnesses, taking pictures, and locating any available video footage of the accident. The lawyer will also obtain medical evidence, such as medical reports, as well as expert testimony, to establish the long-term consequences of the plaintiff’s injuries.
Negotiating With Insurance Companies
After thoroughly investigating the case, the attorney may contact the insurance company and begin negotiations. An experienced personal injury lawyer can review all of the details of the insurance policy and establish the compensation that may be available in a specific case. The lawyer will also handle all communications with the insurance company, which relieves stress and prevents the injury victim from making a statement or otherwise accidentally jeopardizing his or her claim.
Preparing and Filing Legal Documents
If the insurance company refuses to settle, the lawyer may draft a complaint and file a lawsuit in the appropriate court. This must be done within the legal time limits. The complaint states the reasons for the lawsuit and the amount of damages the injured person is asking for. There are many important procedural rules involved in starting a lawsuit.
The plaintiff’s lawyer will initiate discovery processes. In a personal injury case, the discovery process is an essential tool for creating a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding the subject of your lawsuit. It allows both sides to exchange information about the case, including witnesses and other evidentiary information. In civil cases, such as personal injury cases, discovery is wide-ranging, allowing the parties to explore evidence which might be relevant to the case. After discovery is completed, both sides may be in agreement about the strengths and weaknesses of the case, which sometimes leads to a settlement.
There are four key types of discovery. Interrogatories are written questions regarding the lawsuit to be answered by the opposing party. Requests for production request that the opposing counsel product tangible documents for review. A request for admission is a factual statement, served on the other party, who is required to either admit, deny, or object to the statement. A deposition is testimony recorded out of court, for later use.
Representing Clients at Trial
If the case proceeds to trial, a personal injury lawyer provides representation in court. Your lawyer will use all of the evidence to prove the facts of your case. An enormous amount of preparation goes into any trial. Your attorney will advise and support you throughout the process. The steps in a complete trial (assuming it is not settled during the trial) include:
- Selecting a jury
- Making opening statements
- Examining and cross-examining witnesses
- Making closing arguments
- Knowledge of appropriate jury instructions
- Jury deliberation and verdict
Personal injury lawyers are experienced in court procedure and know how to best present all evidence and protect your rights.
What about compensation?
Most people do not know how much money they should get from their personal injury claim. Even using a personal injury settlement calculator may not give you an accurate assessment. Some injuries are not immediately apparent and may not show up for some time after an accident. That is why you should be cautious about accepting a settlement offer without the benefit of legal advice.
Fully understanding the value of your case means analyzing the present and future consequences of your injuries. Your losses may go far beyond medical bills. It can be difficult to know how to put a price tag on injuries such as pain and suffering or loss of companionship. It requires understanding the subtleties of your specific injury case. It is also important to understand how insurance companies work and how to negotiate with an insurance company. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you obtain a compensation award that is fair and just.
Depending on the nature and extent of your injuries, there are different types of compensation multiple types of damages available to help compensate for your losses.
- Compensation for the cost of medical bills arising from all injuries caused by the defendant.
- Lost wages.
- Pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress.
- Wrongful death.
- Loss of companionship/loss of consortium.
- Punitive damages. Florida allows punitive damage in cases where there is a finding of gross negligence or intentional misconduct. However, the amount is limited by statute.
For more information or assistance, contact a licensed personal injury attorney in your area.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765