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What Is A Personal Injury, Exactly?
Personal Injury is defined as the sustained loss or bodily injury from an act of negligence. The main factor of a personal injury case is that it should come from an accident. Any harm or injury inflicted deliberately is no longer an accident, and therefore would qualify as a violent crime instead. Again, it must be an injury inflicted to a person's body. If you've ONLY suffered financial losses, emotional injuries or property damage WITHOUT bodily injury, it will not qualify as personal injury. Instead, you should seek advice from a civil litigation attorney.
How Do I Know I Have a Personal Injury Claim?
You have a Personal Injury Claim if the act of negligence has directly caused you losses. This means that just because you have a visible wound or dislocation, doesn’t mean it’s enough to fully process in court.
You have to show losses as a direct result of the sustained injuries. These losses could be in the form of:
Immediate economic damages (such as medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and damage to property)
Future economic damages (such as loss of future income, loss of the capacity to work, and reduced capacity to do work)
These losses should be presented and given fair equivalent values. In other words, you can’t just show a wound or a disfigured part of your body, you have to explain how those injuries directly affect your everyday life.
How Long Does A Personal Injury Case Take?
As cliche as it sounds, it depends.
In California Personal Injury Cases, payable damages are the main contention. While immediate or out-of-pocket economic damages are easier to prove through receipts, future and non-economic losses still need to be presented and proven to be “fair” damages.
If you are dealing with an insurance company, it might take you even longer. Insurance firms are financially motivated to give you the lowest payout possible, so it’s always vital to have a California Personal Injury Lawyer deal with them instead.
Other specific cases like medical malpractice, defective pharmaceutical and medical equipment, and product liability claims will require court trials.
What’s the Process of a Personal Injury Claim?
While damages and court appearances in Personal Injury Cases can vary depending on the circumstances, filing and demanding for recompense is a simple process.
Notifying the Defendant, the Insurance Provider, or the Court
It should always start with a demand letter. When a demand letter is dismissed, ignored, or turned down, your Personal Injury Lawyer will help you file a legal claim to notify the court.
Sending A Demand Letter
With the help of a California Personal Injury Attorney, you should identify the defendant(s), discuss the specifics of the incident, calculate your losses, and draft a demand letter.
Once the demand letter has been finalized, your Personal Injury Lawyer will be sent to the defendant(s) or their insurance provider. The main purpose of the demand letter is to notify the at-fault party of your intent to collect damages.
The demand letter should also include the following:
Identify the recent accident leading to your injury
The injuries or losses sustained as a result of the accident
A detailed rundown of the monetary equivalents of the aforementioned losses
At this point, the recipient of your demand letter can choose to respond or dismiss it. If they ignore it, however, then you and your Personal Injury Attorney can proceed to file a legal claim.
Filing a Formal Claim
Unlike demand letters, legal Personal Injury Claims require the defendant to respond. This is because a legal claim notifies the court of your intent to collect damages for injuries you have sustained.
This is where your California Personal Injury Lawyer is most needed. The outcome of the case will depend on their investigation, knowledge of the law, and ability to form legal arguments that would support your claims in court.
When The Defendant Finally Responds
When the defendant finally responds to your intent to collect damages, you and your California Personal Injury Lawyer can now decide how to move forward. Your next move, however, is dependent on their specific response.
Defendant Agrees to Privately Settle
When the defendant or their insurance providers agree to award you payable damages, they might not wholly agree to the terms stated in your demand letter. This is why both parties are going to first negotiate the terms between themselves, their lawyers, or the insurance firm’s lawyers.
Most Personal Injury Cases in California take this route. However, how long the settlement will take can depend on the evidence, the demands, your California Personal Injury Attorney, and the defendant or the insurance provider’s legal representatives.
The Discovery Phase
The discovery phase of a Personal Injury Claim in California involves both sides being presented with relevant evidence pertaining to the accident. Both have the right to question witnesses, physical evidence, and question involved parties.
Your Personal Injury Attorney will supplement findings presented in the discovery phase with evidence retrieved during their investigations. This is why it’s important to take as much documentation during and immediately after your accident.
Defendant Refuses the Demand
When the defendant either a.) does not respond to the legal claim or b.) does not want to settle as per your demands of fair damages, you and your California Personal Injury Attorney can now take the case to court.
In this process, a trial will proceed, and a judge or jury will be the ones to decide the amount of damages that will be awarded.
How Are Damages Determined in California Personal Injury Cases?
As briefly mentioned, Personal Injury claims seek compensation for the losses sustained by the victim as a direct result of the accident. These losses could be economic, non-economic, past, and future losses.
The whole principle of California Personal Injury Laws is that plaintiffs or victims should be compensated to get them back to how they were before the accident.
Economic damages include past and future expenses.
Reimbursement of Out-of-Pocket Expenses
You can be reimbursed for past expenses that have been incurred from the time of your injury. These could include:
This type of damages is easily provable because there are records readily available. Keep all the receipts, bank statements, doctor’s prescriptions, and other documents to prove the expenses you’ve already incurred.
Future Monetary Losses
You can also be awarded damages for future losses and expenses directly caused by the accident. These include:
Loss or reduction of the ability to work: This includes life-altering effects that directly affect your capacity to do labor, and subsequently affect your overall future earnings (i.e., permanent disfigurement).
Loss of future income
Future medical costs to treat injury
Future rehabilitation costs to fully recover from injury
Costs of professional psychiatric treatments
Non-economic damages are a way to compensate for losses that, though not immediately visible, can still cause significant harm or difficulty in a plaintiff’s day-to-day life.
These could take in the form of punitive damages for:
Loss of relationships/consortium
Loss of community
Loss of ability to guide and care for children
Even if you were unemployed, your California Personal Injury Attorney can still calculate losses based on your intangible contribution to your household (i.e., care, guidance, etc.).
Important Caveat: California’s Comparative Fault Rule
California Personal Injury Laws operate under “Comparative Fault”. The law considers the possibility of the plaintiff having also contributed to the accident.
If the defendant’s lawyers successfully prove that you are partially responsible for the damages, these might be calculated and awarded as reductions to your final settlement.
How Can I Maximize My Settlement or Awarded Damages?
There are many ways to maximize your compensation, and the precautions and steps you can take to do so can start as early as immediately after the incident. Here are a few common suggestions:
Avoid Negotiating with Insurance Firms without a Lawyer
As said before, insurance firms are financially motivated to reduce the payout as much as possible. Dealing with them on your own, while you’re in shock or in an emotional state, can lead you to agree with unfair settlement terms.
Instead, contact a California Personal Injury Attorney to gather evidence, send demand letters, file complaints, and negotiate for settlement on your behalf.
Collect as Much Evidence and Witness Information as You Can
Take photos of the scene, your injuries, preserve clothing and other items that can back your claims. Take note and keep a record of eyewitnesses and their contact numbers.
Log and keep original receipts from hospitals, pharmacies, and property repair services.
The gathered evidence can help you during the discovery phase of your case.
Hire Expert Witnesses
With the help of your California Personal Injury Attorney, you can get experts to testify for future expenses that can be incurred as a result of your injury. These could be medical practitioners or accountants, depending on whether it’s future medical costs or income loss.
Future and non-economic costs are usually more difficult to prove than immediate costs you will have records for. So, it’s important that a trusted individual with ample knowledge of the subject matter represents you.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims in California?
The statute of limitations is a predetermined period of time between the incident and the deadline that a plaintiff is allowed to file claims. The deadline for doing so is two years, and any claims after that are considered invalid.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
While Personal Injury Laws in California have a specific definition that will cater to anything that fits it, there are common cases that are often handled by Personal Injury Lawyers.
These include the following examples:
Transportation or vehicle-related accidents are the most common (and easily identifiable) cause of Personal Injuries in California.
The owner of a shop, a store, a venue, a building, or a home has the responsibility to put safety precautions in their premises. Any injuries caused by the lack of safety protocols qualify for personal injury cases.
Catastrophic injuries can be caused by different accidents. However, what differentiates catastrophic injuries from the rest is that they are life-altering. These injuries can include:
Product Liability Claims
Dog Bite Injury - Dog owners in California are held liable for injuries caused by their pets.
Uninsured Motorist - Plaintiffs can still claim damages after an uninsured motorist or a driver directly contributes to their personal injury.
Workers' Compensation - Workers’ compensation (for sustained losses from on-the-job accidents) is both a Personal Injury and Employment Law Claim in California.
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