If you have been involved in an accident and are left with serious injuries—perhaps even injuries that could affect you for the rest of your life—it is important that you understand California’s personal injury laws. The best way to accomplish this is to speak to a knowledgeable Orange County personal injury attorney from Russell & Lazarus APC. Our attorneys work hard for our clients with a goal of ensuring they are properly compensated for the negligence of another. Hundreds of thousands of people across the nation are involved each year in accidents which result in serious injury: slip and falls in a public place, car collisions with a myriad of resulting injuries, medical malpractice injuries due to medical errors, injuries from a defective medical device or dangerous drug, and many, many more.
Most of us are totally unfamiliar with the legal system as well as unprepared for the level of paperwork required and the deadlines which must be met when a personal injury lawsuit is filed. Statutes of limitations must be considered, evidence gathered, witnesses consulted, and insurance companies dealt with. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured due to the negligence of another, it is likely you are doing your best to heal while carrying on with your everyday tasks. You may also be facing mountains of medical expenses, and, if you are unable to return to work, unpaid monthly expenses, as well. Trying to deal with a personal injury lawsuit on top of that can be overwhelming. The Russell & Lazarus APC attorneys can take that burden from you, handling all the legal issues with skill, experience, and compassion.
In most cases, in order to collect money following a personal injury in the state of California, you will be required to prove that the negligent party in your case failed their duty toward you, that the failure is directly related to your injuries and that you suffered damages as a result of that failure of duty. If your accident, caused by the negligence of another has left you with injuries which have significantly—or permanently—altered your life, if you have suffered significant levels of scarring or disfigurement if a loved one has lost his or her life due to negligence, if you are facing a never-ending level of expenses related to the accident, Russell & Lazarus APC can help.
When one person suffers harm from an accident with injury, and another person could be legally responsible for that harm, it is called a personal injury. The responsible person’s insurance typically pays the injured person for his or her medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering associated with the accident. A personal injury can lead to a personal injury claim filed to collect compensation for the plaintiff’s injuries. While the vast majority of personal injury claims are settled out of court, some will go before a jury.
Before a personal injury claim is filed, the plaintiff’s attorney may try for an informal settlement. If the offer is sufficient to cover the plaintiff’s expenses related to the accident, then the settlement will take the form of a written agreement, signed by all parties involved. The plaintiff will agree to forego any further action against the defendant. When a formal lawsuit is filed, negotiations will take place all the way up to trial time. If the case simply cannot be settled, a jury will decide the case.
There are many different types of personal injury claims, however, the most common personal injury claims include the following:
Statutes of limitations are laws put into place by each state which govern the amount of time you have in which to file your personal injury claim. These time limits can vary considerably from state to state, from six months to ten years or more. Missing these statutes of limitations can result in being forever barred from bringing a lawsuit against the negligent party. In the state of California, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims and wrongful death claims is two years from the date of the injury.
There are different categories of damages, or compensation, in personal injury claims, although in some cases, the categories may overlap. The categories of compensation include compensatory damages, which are further divided into actual economic damages and general, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.
Economic damages are intended to compensate you for specific monetary losses sustained from the accident. These can include lost wages, medical expenses, the cost of replacing or repairing damaged personal property, and, in a wrongful death claim, costs associated with the funeral. Medical expenses usually cover ambulance costs, hospital costs, physician costs, surgical costs, prescription medications, the cost of medical tests and treatments, rehabilitative therapies, and, in some cases, the cost associated with getting to and from the doctor or other health care professional.
Non-economic damages are harder to quantify. These damages are meant to compensate you for any losses which have resulted in a negative effect on your life, such as pain and suffering, loss of the marital relationship (loss of consortium), emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. Perhaps you were involved in a traumatic car accident that left you in chronic pain, depressed, unable to sleep, and afraid to get into a car. If so, you might qualify for non-economic damages. When pain and suffering are claimed—and supported—insurance companies are more likely to settle the claim, knowing that juries tend to award significant settlements for pain and suffering.
Punitive damages are only awarded in cases where the behavior of the defendant was particularly egregious, reckless, or malicious. When a defendant behaved willfully or wantonly, punitive damages may be considered. Not only are punitive damages intended to punish the defendant, but they are also meant to deter the same type of behavior in others.
In the state of California—as in all states—negligence must be proven in order to definitively show liability. Legal liability refers to whether the person who caused the accident had an obligation or responsibility to do—or refrain from doing—the thing that caused harm. The question may be asked as to whether the injury was “foreseeable.” As an example, if the owner of a dog which has bitten two other people lets the dog off its leash in a public place, is it foreseeable that the dog might bite another person? If a stack of boxes is left in the walkway of a grocery store, is it foreseeable that a customer might run into the boxes, fall down, and sustain an injury?
Along with foreseeability, comes reasonableness. In other words, we ask whether a reasonable human being, given the same set of circumstances, would have acted in the same manner. Foreseeability and reasonableness can be complex legal issues, often difficult to sort out. We then move on to negligence, which is an action or failure to act by a defendant who owes a duty of care to the plaintiff. The specific duty of care will depend on the relationship between the individuals involved.
As an example, the owner of a store has a duty to keep the premises clean and in relatively good condition with no obvious hazards or dangerous situations. A childcare provider or nursing home staff member has a duty to ensure the children or elderly are safe and healthy, an employer has a duty to provide a safe, hazard-free work environment, and a healthcare provider has a duty to patients to use a reasonably accepted standard of care to diagnose and treat. Product manufacturers have a duty to sell products that are designed correctly and free of defects, and drivers have a responsibility to follow the rules of the road and be mindful of others who share the road. The relationship between the parties is crucial to proving negligence.
Once it is established that the defendant had a specific duty to act—or not act—in a certain way, it must be determined whether the defendant breached that duty, whether that breach of duty caused injury to the plaintiff, whether the defendant should have foreseen the likelihood of that injury, and whether the injuries resulted in actual damages (medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.).
California’s comparative fault law must also be taken into consideration. If the plaintiff has some responsibility for his or her injury, that percentage of fault will affect the total amount of damages they can recover. As an example, if a restaurant left a spilled soda in the walkway for three hours, with no sign to indicate the hazard, and a person in the restaurant slipped and fell, the restaurant owner would be liable. If, however, the person was sending a text while walking, rather than watching out for where they were going, they might be judged to be partially responsible for the accident. Under comparative fault law, the amount of the award will be decreased by the percentage of fault assigned to the plaintiff.
After you have been injured in an accident caused by the negligence of another person or entity, you may wonder how your claim will be evaluated, and what damages you can expect. There are factors that are more difficult to prove to an insurance company, including human loss. You may need family members and close friends to tell how the accident has affected your life to fully prove your damages. Once your attorney shows that another person was at fault for your injuries, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your losses, which could include:
A personal injury attorney from Russell & Lazarus APC can help you determine what type of compensation you may be entitled to and can discuss ways to maximize your settlement based on your level of injury.
Pain and suffering is a legal term referring to physical pain resulting from your injuries, but also to emotional and mental “injuries,” including the loss of enjoyment of life, trauma, fear, anxiety, stress, grief, insomnia, and inconvenience. Since it is so subjective, there are two methods generally used to place a dollar value on pain and suffering. The first method is to multiply your actual damages (medical bills and lost wages) by a specific number between one and five, which is dependent on the severity of your injuries.
As an example, if you were in a serious accident which left you with catastrophic injuries and the amount of your actual damages were $200,000, then that amount might be multiplied by 4, meaning the amount asked for pain and suffering could be $800,000. Of course, the defendant’s attorney will ask for a lower multiplier, and your attorney will ask for a higher one. Some attorneys prefer the “per diem” approach. This method assigns a specific number to every day, beginning from the day of your accident, and ending when you have reached maximum recovery. The number of days is then multiplied by the daily amount.
It is important to note that insurance companies may use neither of these methods, rather, they could use a computer program to determine the amount they should offer for your pain and suffering. You will need solid documentation to prove your pain and suffering in the form of photographs and personal journals that thoroughly detail your physical and emotional feelings. You may also have documentation from co-workers, friends, and family members to provide additional evidence of how the accident has affected your day-to-day life. If you seek treatment from a mental health professional, proof of that treatment will be required.
No matter what type of accident was responsible for your injuries, it is imperative that you be able to provide your Orange County personal injury attorney with enough evidence to prove your injuries were the result of the carelessness or negligence of another person. You will need to preserve all evidence to the fullest extent possible and should first always seek medical attention.
Even if you don’t think you are hurt very seriously, it can still be wise to let a doctor look you over. In many instances, the adrenaline rush you get at the time of the accident can mask symptoms. Neck, back, and head injuries, in particular, may not show up for days or even weeks. If you fail to see a doctor immediately, the insurance company may refuse to pay under the theory you were fine at the time, therefore, something else must have caused your current injuries. After you have attended to your health, there are certain things you can do which can immeasurably help your attorney in obtaining an equitable settlement for your injuries. These things include:
There are a number of ways to find the best personal injury lawyer in Orange County for your claim. You will want to find a top injury lawyer in Orange County—one with a proven track record of success. You may want to get some referrals before choosing your personal injury lawyer. These referrals can come from friends and family members, co-workers, an online Lawyer Directory, or from another attorney you are acquainted with. Once you have a list of names, you will want to set up consultations with several Orange County personal injury attorneys. You will discuss your claim and the potential ways it can be handled. (Most attorneys do not charge for this initial consultation).
During the consultation, you can ask each attorney how long he or she has been in practice, and what the lawyer’s personal injury specialty is. You will want to ask whether the attorney you are speaking to will actually handle your case, or if it will be handed off to associates (who might be less experienced). You will discuss your goals for your personal injury claim to see if those goals mesh with the attorney’s goals for your claim.
Finally, listen to your “gut.” Do you feel comfortable with the attorney? Can you easily talk to the attorney? Do you feel he or she truly cares about your personal injury and will fight on your behalf? Is this a person you feel you can trust? If you feel comfortable with the attorney and confident in his or her experience, skills, and ideas of how to proceed with your personal injury claim, you have likely found the best attorney to take your case.
It is entirely normal to wonder how long your Orange County personal injury claim will take; this can be an extremely difficult question to answer as the unique facts of your accident will come into play as far as your exact timeline. Generally speaking, if your claim goes to trial, it could take two years or longer to fully resolve. Below you will see how your Orange County personal injury case will progress, which will give you some idea of the time involved.
Once you have made the difficult decision to hire a personal injury attorney, you need to do your best to remove the focus from your (understandable) anger and frustration, asking yourself where you want to be once your personal injury claim has concluded. Identify your specific goals—such as having all your medical bills paid—then discuss those goals with your experienced Russell & Lazarus APC personal injury attorney. Our goal is to always be sensitive to your feelings regarding your personal injury claim while fighting hard to obtain a fair settlement for you.
While there are many good Orange County personal injury attorneys out there, we bring more than 25 years of experience to the table, along with an extremely high rate of success for our clients—95 percent. We have learned the successful tactics and strategies we use by fighting for clients just like you. We are tenacious in our goal of protecting the rights of our clients as well as ensuring they receive the maximum settlement possible. The Russell & Lazarus APC attorneys have a solid network of professionals who will help prove your personal injury claim.
When your case requires expert witnesses to testify on your behalf, we have those connections. Our attorneys work as a team because we believe that gives your case the very best chance possible. At Russell & Lazarus APC, our attorneys are intelligent, experienced, passionate, and aggressive, and we will “have your back” from start to finish. Contact Russell & Lazarus APC today—we promise to help you get your life back.