Some common misconceptions about Orange County personal injury claims exist. This article will hopefully dispel a few of them.
Many Kinds of Personal Injury Cases. While personal injury suits are usually associated with automobile accidents, they may arise from many other situations: premises liability (i.e., suits against landlords or property owners), injuries from animals, injuries caused by intentional acts (assault, battery, or intentional infliction of mental distress).
Most personal injury cases involve insurance companies, and most cases are settled before they are ever brought to court. Often a lawyer can resolve your case with the insurance company without even filing a lawsuit. Lawsuits are expensive, and insurance companies would prefer to avoid them whenever possible.
Your Time Is Limited. The time in which you may bring a lawsuit is governed by a statute of limitations, which vary according to the nature of the lawsuit. In California, the general rule is that personal injury claims must be brought within two years of the date of injury, but there can be exceptions—for example, a suit brought against the State of California, or a California Government Agency, must be brought within six months of the injury, otherwise it is barred. Moreover, there are specific rules of procedure which must be strictly followed in such cases.
Shared Fault Rules. What if you were at fault, or somewhat at fault, for the accident–can you still sue? This question involves “shared fault rules,” which vary from state to state. In a handful of states, if you are at fault at all, the answer is a flat no. But most states, including the State of California, follow the “pure comparative negligence” rule, which states that the fault of the plaintiff (the person who sues) will be compared to the fault of the defendant (the person being sued), and any compensation to the plaintiff will be reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff’s own fault. Thus, if the accident was deemed to be 50% your fault, your award will be cut in half. But even if you were 90% at fault, you are still entitled to be compensated for 10% of your damages.
Limits on the Amount You Can Recover. Some states specifically limit the amount of damages one can recover in certain kinds of claims. In California for example, if you sue a doctor for medical malpractice, you will be limited to a $250,000 recovery of non-economic damages. “Non-economic” means damages such as pain and suffering, disability or the like—damages that do not impact one economically. But if you are disabled and can’t work, there is no limit, since that would constitute “economic loss.” Nor would there be a limit on recovery for your medical bills or other “out of pocket” expenses (which are, of course, “economic”).
And the limit on recovery of economic damages can have an even broader application in some states. California, for example, which requires anyone who drives to carry liability insurance, also provides that anyone who is in an accident who is driving without insurance has no right to be compensated for non-economic loss. He has no right to make a claim for pain, and suffering and the like. A non-insured driver may only recover such for such things as lost wages, the cost of repairing his car, and medical bills.
Strict Liability Cases. While most personal injury cases are based upon the negligence of the defendant, in some cases one may be held liable even in the absence of negligence. For example, in California, the owner of a dog will be held strictly liable if his dog bites someone. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the owner exercised due care; he need not have been negligent in any way. If his dog bites someone, he is liable. There are exceptions. For example, the person who was bitten must have been on the premises lawfully in the first place. Thus, if the dog bites a burglar, tough luck for the burglar.
Cases of strict liability (liability regardless of fault) are not very common, but they do arise in a variety of situations. Thus, under California law, employers are held strictly liable for harassment of employees by supervisors, regardless of whether the employer took reasonable measures to prevent it.
Hiring a Lawyer. If you are injured and believe you have a case, your first step should be to consult a local lawyer experienced in personal injury work. Generally you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, since personal injury lawyers most always work on a contingent fee basis (they are compensated by receiving a percentage of what they recover for you). No recovery, no fee.
So if you are injured and believe you have a right to compensation, hire a lawyer. Do not try to handle it yourself. Even a brief contact with the opposing side could result in irreparable harm to your case. You might, for example, make damaging admissions, without even realizing you’ve made them. Try to approach your chosen lawyer having realistic expectations, and follow his advice.