Groups » Suffered a Personal Injury? Here's What To Do Next

Each year over three million people are injured due to accidents in public spaces, on the road, or at home. In 2014, the United States saw 300,000 personal injury lawsuits being filed. Personal injury falls under the area of civil law that aims to provide monetary compensation to victims of an accident or other wrongdoing. According to statistics, 95 percent of personal injury cases are settled out of court, or pretrial. 

The person who brings the wrongdoing to court is called the 'plaintiff,' while the person responsible for the injury is called the 'defendant.' In case someone dies due to the injury, such as a fatal accident, the family of the deceased can bring forth a wrongful death suit against the responsible party.  

Civil Case vs Criminal Case

A civil case involves a person, corporation, or the government (an entity), known as the plaintiff, claiming that another individual or entity, known as the defendant, failed to carry out their duty toward the plaintiff. The plaintiff now goes to court to hold the defendant responsible for the harm done, and either receive compensation for the harm done or ask the defendant to fulfill their duty.

An individual can also file a civil suit in federal court claiming a violation of their constitutional rights or federal statutes. For example, an individual can sue their local police department for violating his or her constitutional rights, including the right to assemble peacefully.

In contrast, a criminal case involves an accusation, known as an 'indictment' for felonies or other serious crimes, or an 'information' for misdemeanors. In a criminal case, unlike a personal injury suit, the victim is not responsible for bringing forth the criminal case. A punishment for a criminal case could include monetary compensation but will also likely include a prison sentence and possible supervision while in the community by a parole officer.

Who Can Be Held Responsible?

Personal injury cases arise primarily from negligence, and also include accidents – for example, slipping and falling in the workplace or an accident on the road while driving. These could either cause a mild injury or one that leads to a lifelong disability which may even force you to leave employment. In order to prove that the defendant was at fault, the plaintiff must prove that negligence was involved. This means proving that another person was negligent while he or she should have had a duty of care in the situation which led to the injury.

The plaintiff has to prove how the other party, the defendant, failed to meet the duty of care, thereby causing the accident. Proving negligence is the first part of a personal injury case and the second part is proving that the injuries sustained were directly caused by the breach, or accident.

Discovery Stage

Once a lawsuit has been filed, the court will order a date by which all information-gathering must be completed. The discovery stage of a personal injury suit involves both parties exchanging information. The main purpose of discovery is to make both sides aware of the evidence that they will each present at the trial. A subpoena can be used to ask the other party to produce records or documents for inspection, and both parties aim to be as well prepared as possible while trying to avoid any surprises during the trial itself.

Discovery can be in various forms such as:

• Written Discovery: This is when facts are presented through interrogations, requests for production of documents, and requests for admissions. Interrogatories are written documents that have to be answered under oath. Requests for admission aim to have one party admit the truth about a statement of fact. Documents may need to be produced at trial to be inspected or copied.

• Oral Discovery: Each party can take depositions of people who may have certain facts pertaining to the case. This could include a question and answer format as is seen with witnesses during trial, except no judge will be present at a deposition.

• Physical and mental examination: This is when the opposing party seeks to verify the mental or physical condition of the plaintiff. For example, if a plaintiff has been injured in a car accident due to the defendant's rash driving, the defendant's insurance company may request the  injured party to undergo an 'independent medical examination' to verify the injuries.

After an Accident

In case you are involved in an accident – for example, a car accident – your actions immediately after the accident can have a direct impact on the reimbursement that you will receive from the car insurance company if a claim is filed. Here's what you should do:

• Find medical help: Getting medical attention following an accident is necessary not only for your health but also to strengthen your personal injury claim. Waiting days or weeks after the accident to seek medical help will make it harder to prove that your injuries were a direct result of the accident.

• Photograph Injuries: It’s important to get someone to take pictures of your injuries, as these will be invaluable evidence that strengthen your case. It is also useful to take pictures of the accident location, including any stop signs or traffic lights if possible, along with the damage done to the vehicle.

• Don’t Apologize: Even if you believe that you may be partially responsible for the incident, don’t apologize to anyone on the scene or to the car insurance representative. Doing this can have an adverse effect on your claim. According to David Goguen who works at a Personal Injury Law Firm in NYC, "If you do share some level of liability, it can affect your total compensation."

• Make Notes: Keep detailed information regarding any visits to the doctor, physical therapist, and any other professionals who you met with after the accident. It’s also important to not settle for a claim until all your medical treatments have been completed, and all injuries have healed.

With a high number of personal injury lawsuits being filed every year in the United States, it’s clear that they play an important role in the justice system. It is always advisable to seek legal help when filing a personal injury civil suit since an attorney can help negotiate the appropriate compensation and can guide you through the legalities of your individual case.

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