Personal Injury Law FAQ

1.What does the term negligence mean?
Negligence is the basis for a personal injury lawsuit. It means that because of the defendant's carelessness, the plaintiff was injured or killed. In order to prove this in a court of law, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant had some responsibility or duty to protect his or her safety. For example, if homeowners fail to follow neighborhood regulations about building a fence around a pool area to keep children out, they are responsible if a child dies by drowning in their pool.

2.What does it mean to be liable for an offense?
In criminal cases, guilty individuals are considered "guilty," in civil cases they are considered "liable." If a defendant is found to be liable, he or she may have to compensate the plaintiff for his or her losses. The amount of compensation will be determined by the jury or the judge, depending on the severity of the injury.

3.What is contributory negligence?
This fancy term simply means that the defendant can claim that the accident was because of a fault of the plaintiff. This would exonerate the defendant from any charges of negligence, and the case would be closed. For example, if a person were to run out into a busy street and be struck by a car, then that person could not sue the driver of the car for negligence.

4.What is comparative negligence?
This is much like contributory negligence, except that both parties are liable for the injury. A judge or a jury will determine who is more at fault, based on a percentage level. If a plaintiff is asking for $1 million in damages to cover the cost of his or her medical bills and personal suffering, and the judge or jury determine that the accident was partially caused by carelessness, the defendant may only win 75 or 50 percent of what he or she asked for, originally.

5.What does it mean to "be aware of the assumption of risk?"
If the injured party understands that there is some inherent risk involved with his or her activity or has been warned by a product manufacturer, then he or she cannot press charges. For example, carry-out and drive thru restaurants that offer coffee on the menu, dress it with a label saying that it is hot, so that those who order it know the inherent risks of drinking the coffee before it has the chance to cool.

6.What is strict liability?
To sue a defendant for personal injury under strict liability, the lawyer does not need to prove that he or she was negligent. This is one scenario in which responsibility is entirely assumed by the defendant, without exception. This comes into play with consumer issues. For instance, a consumer would not have to prove that a toymaker was negligent, only that his product is defective. By selling his product in an open market, the toymaker takes full responsibility for any injuries that come from its design.

7.What is premises liability?
Like strict liability cases, the defendant in a premises liability case takes full responsibility for any injuries that occur to the plaintiff. However, in this situation, the defendant is responsible for his or her own property, residential or commercial. For instance, if you fall because someone has failed to keep their stairs cleared of snow, you may be able to sue him or her for personal injury, based on premises liability.

8.When do the police need a warrant to make an arrest?
Only when the police have a significant enough belief to ascertain probable cause can they execute an arrest without an arrest warrant. There are however extenuating circumstances that may give the officers right to execute and arrest without a warrant. Each state has their own rules regarding the acceptance of warrant execution.

9.How should I assert my right to remain silent if the police decide to question me?
You can simply state to the authorities that you are pleading your fifth amendment right to remain silent. You are allowed to remain silent so the police have no right to make you tell them anything that they ask you. If you are harassed by the police after informing them that you are not speaking without counsel, you may be able to have the case dismissed on a violation of your civil rights.

10.What evidence will I need to provide in my personal injury case?
It is a good idea to take many photos, either with a 35-mm film or digital camera of any injuries that you sustained. Make sure that you document any bruising, scratches and broken bones. Also, if any of your property was damaged in the incident, you should also make note of the problems. Witnesses can help prove your case, so finding names, telephone numbers and addresses beforehand can be a great benefit.

11.What else should I bring to my personal injury case?
Detailed reports of your out-of-pocket expenses for medical bills and the amount of lost wages will help your personal injury lawyer, as well as the judge or jury determine an appropriate award if you win your case. The insurance company will also require records of your medical expenses and lost income, so it is extremely important to keep track of all of your numbers. Without this information, you may not be given enough money to cover all of your losses

12.Will my case details remain confidential?
Lawyers, just like doctors and clergy members, cannot be forced to divulge any information about their clients' personal information, without consent. The law protects the privacy of the individual, but any information that is revealed during the trial process may be considered public information, which can be accessed by anyone, including local journalists. Therefore, the client should have a comprehensive discussion about privacy issues with his or her lawyer before the trial date.

13.How long does it take to complete a personal injury case?
The length of your case will be determined by its complexity. If you have serious injuries, most lawyers recommend that you wait until the end of your recovery period to consider pressing charges. This allows you to make a full assessment of the expenses you incurred for medical bills, and the total amount of wages that you lost, while you were recovering. Some cases take months to wrap up, others take years.

14.Do I really need to hire a personal injury lawyer?
Though it may be tempting to represent yourself in a personal injury case, it is a very unwise decision. Your medical bills may be piling up, and you could be missing a great deal of time from work. However, an experienced lawyer will be able to help you get this money back and more. If your defendant has worthy representation, you may find yourself in trouble with your claim. Personal injury settlements are best left to the professionals.

15.What are the three types of damages that I can sue for?
If you are fighting for a personal injury claim, you can ask the defendant for more than one type of repayment. Plaintiffs can request general damages, which covers the pain, suffering and the mental and emotional aspects of an injury. Though it is difficult to put a pricetag on this, the extra cash can help the plaintiff get back on the road to recovery. Special damages refers to the medical bills and lost earning, in the past, the present and the future. Punitive damages can be awarded simply because the judge or jury feels that the defendant deserves a bigger settlement.

16.Can a person by charged with DUI for only one drink?
If the person that is suspected of DUI has a blood alcohol level that is above the states legal limit, (typically 0.8 percent) with only one drink, then yes. DUI is determined by the level of alcohol in the blood stream, not the amount of drinks one consumes.

17.Why would a defendant have to pay punitive damages?
If a defendant acts particularly hostile or callous about an injury that he or she caused the plaintiff, often the judge or the jury can assign more compensation. It is very rare that this type of award is given, because its boundaries are so vague, but it is a tool that can be used to deter defendants from negligence and carelessness.

18.What is a "loss of services?"
If the plaintiff has a spouse or other dependants, he or she may be able to sue for a loss of services. This is also known as a consortium claim, and is a bit rare. However, if a husband or a wife can prove the loss of a partner's ability to help raise children or care for the household because of an injury, the defendant can be hit twice for the same personal injury lawsuit. This could be, in a way, considered to be a form of general damages.

19.What is the "statute of limitations?"
This commonly used expression refers to the amount of time that a plaintiff has to file a case after the initial incident. For example, if a traffic accident occurs this weekend, the plaintiff only has a period of time to file a claim, before he or she will be barred by law from ever filing one in the future. However, the plaintiff does have time to recover from his or her injuries until he or she must file the lawsuit.

20.Why does the law vary from state to state?
The federal government tends to keep its hands out of personal injury lawsuits. Each state creates its own legislation and uses its own courts to determine the awards amounts for personal injury claims. The law may not exactly be the same in each state, but the state in which the incident occurred has jurisdiction over the trial.

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