A car accident can change your life in an instant. One moment you’re driving to work or to your child’s ball game and the next you’re severely injured and taking a ride in an ambulance. You could even end up with permanent injuries. You don’t know when or if you will return to work, how you will pay your bills, or how to adjust to your new standard of living. At a time like this, it only seems right that the driver responsible for your injuries should compensate you for them.
Steps Involved in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
The first thing you need to do to get the process started is meet with a personal injury attorney to discuss your car accident case. If you decide the law firm is a good fit, the next step is for your lawyer to send letters of representation to the insurance company of the at-fault driver and your own insurance company. When your complete treatment or reach maximum medical improvement (MMI), your attorney should request copies of your medical records, lost wages, and any details pertaining to your case.
After obtaining your records, your lawyer sends certified copies to the at-fault driver’s insurance company to begin the negotiation process. It’s very common for insurance agents to make a low initial offer to see how serious you are about fighting for your right to fair compensation. Your personal injury lawyer will go back and forth with the insurance agent to try to obtain a settlement. If the two sides can’t agree, then your case will go to court.
What Compensation Can You Expect from a Successful Personal Injury Lawsuit?
The following are common forms of compensation in car accident cases. You may not receive all of them.
Reimbursement for medical expenses: This includes all initial costs in treating your injuries as well as anticipated future costs. Medical expenses cover your doctor’s care, hospital fees, surgery, physical therapy, medication, cost to make your home handicapped accessible if applicable, and many others.
Payment for lost wages: This category is more complicated than it may initially seem. You could be eligible for dollar for dollar payments of the time you missed due to your injuries as well as additional time you need to recover. Some injured people are never able to return to work or can no longer complete the same job duties. This forces them to take a cut in pay. If either is true in your situation, your settlement will reflect that.
Property damage: You may be eligible for reimbursement for damage to your vehicle and anything inside your vehicle, such as a computer you used for work.
Pain and suffering: This category is much more subjective than the others. It puts a dollar value on the extent of the pain and suffering you deal with as a direct result of the accident. This can include ongoing physical pain as well as emotional distress. It’s common for people involved in serious accidents to struggle with depression, anger, and troubling flashbacks. Emotional distress may be a separate category from pain and suffering in some cases.
Loss of enjoyment: This refers to your inability to enjoy activities you participated in before the accident, such as personal hobbies.
Loss of consortium: Like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment, loss of consortium is a type of subjective compensation. It refers to the change in relationship between spouses, particularly in terms of a sexual relationship. It can also describe changes in parent and child relationships. The court normally pays this type of compensation to the family member of the injured party directly.
Punitive damages: The goal of compensatory damages is to help make you whole again after a car accident. Punitive damages are something else entirely, as they seek to punish the at-fault party for especially reckless or outrageous behavior. It also serves as a warning to others not to engage in activities that put people at risk.
Even when you’re not at fault for the accident, you’re expected to take steps to mitigate the resulting financial damages. One example of this is going to the doctor promptly before injuries get worse. The court could reduce your compensation or dismiss your lawsuit if the other party can prove you did nothing to help your cause.
Understanding Statute of Limitations and Contributory Negligence
Each state sets its own guidelines for how long an injured person has to file a lawsuit against the responsible party. Two to three years is common. Additionally, states have the power to dictate whether a person can sue if he or she shares any responsibility for the accident. In some states, you can’t sue if you’re even one percent responsible. Others require plaintiffs to share less than 50 percent of the blame while still others place no limits on contributory negligence. If you’re considering filing a personal injury lawsuit, make sure you know the laws in your state regarding both of these conditions.