Guide to Personal Injury Law

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The legal definition of a personal injury is an injury to your body, mind or emotions.  It is not an injury to physical property.  Personal injury covers physical harm, such as broken bones, bruises, or any serious injury sustained in an accident.  It also includes the emotional and psychological injury you experienced as a result of trauma sustained through a humiliating or life-threatening experience.

A personal injury case arises as a result of someone else’s negligence.  If you were the victim of an accidental personal injury caused through the fault of another, that individual or business is legally responsible to pay damages and/or compensation.

Handling Your Own Claim

Process

Most personal injury claims involve making phone calls and writing letters to the insurance company.  They will typically assign an insurance adjuster to your case who may request that you give them a recorded statement of your version of the events.  Be very careful when giving information that can be used to weaken your case.  Particularly important is to be aware that not all injuries show up right away.  They may take several days to manifest themselves.

Compensation

The amount of money that you are entitled to in a personal injury claim depends on several factors.  These may include the type of accident, the nature of your injuries, and whether it affects your ability to work.  If you don’t currently hold a job due to retirement or other circumstances, if your injuries preclude you from doing every day tasks or activities that you enjoy, you may be compensated for the loss of enjoyment of life.

To determine what your claim may be worth, you must become informed as to the types of damages that you can be compensated for. 

They include the following:

  • Medical care and relates expenses
  • Permanent physical disability or disfigurement
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of family, social or educational experiences and recreational events such as being unable to go on vacation
  • Emotional and/or psychological damages
  • Damaged property such as the vehicle involved in the accident

Benefits – No Legal Fees

Over 80% of all personal injury cases do not go to trial.  Most personal injury attorneys will take a percentage of 35 to 40% of any damage award that you may receive.  Depending on the extent of your injuries and how much time and effort you can invest, it may be a good idea to handle your own claim.

In some cases, lawyers may charge an hourly rate, which can add up quickly and diminish the amount of money that you may need to cover your current expenses as a result of the accident.

Hiring an Attorney

When to Seek Legal Help?

Insurance companies try to settle personal injury claims as quickly and economically possible.  They are in the business of making money and holding onto it as long as possible so they can invest it and earn more money.  They don’t like to pay claims as this takes the cash out of their pockets.

The tactics they use can best be defined as delay, deny and defend.  They will most likely deny that the accident is the fault of their insured client.  They will delay giving you money for as long as possible hoping that you’ll be desperate enough to take the initial settlement offer.  It is highly unlikely that the insurance company will provide you with their best offer first.  You are not their client and their vested interest lies in protecting their client.  They will defend any claim you make, even negating your injuries and may force you to go to trial, which can be a long and expensive process.

If your case involves intricate issues, such as significant injuries, then it is usually prudent to hire an attorney.  The attorney will know how to deal with complex liability issues or complicated medical opinions.  They will also be familiar with the tactics used by the insurance carrier and will be able to protect their client.  Ultimately, that combined knowledge and expertise will result in a better outcome.

Different Situations Require Different Levels of Expertise

There are a variety of things to consider when deciding if you can handle a personal injury claim on your own or whether it’s best to hire an attorney to represent your interests.

If you wish to handle your claim without legal representation, you must be willing to do homework and research.  There are many questions that need to be answered before you can determine which path to take.  They might include:

  • What is negligence?
  • What is proximate cause?
  • What is intervening cause?
  • How is the amount of damages suffered determined?
  • What is strict liability?
  • What does determining negligence depend on?
  • How is the value of property damage determined?

If you have a small case with few damages and minor injuries from which you completely recover does not justify hiring an attorney unless the third-party insurance company of the driver at fault denies liability.  If you document your injuries, medical treatment and loss of wages, you should be able to obtain fair compensation in your insurance settlement.

However, if you suffered a serious injury and are likely to have residual effects in the future, it may be in your best interest to hire a reputable and knowledgeable personal injury attorney.  The attorney will be able to:

  • Assess your injury
  • Obtain additional evidence, information and reports
  • Provide information on how to shortcut resolving your injury claim
  • Negotiate with all parties involved
  • Represent you in court

Some of the arguments the insurance company will use to justify paying out as little as possible on your claim include:

  • Minimal damage to the vehicles involved in the accident
  • Too little or too much treatment
  • Pre-existing injury to the same part of the body
  • Gaps in treatment
  • Use of alternative care (chiropractic or naturopathy)

Keep in mind that insurance companies pay higher settlements to injured people who are represented by an attorney.  So, if you have serious injuries or need to claim a large settlement, then it’s time to seek legal counsel.

Next Page: Who is the Liable Party?

 

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