Your basic legal options explained, from claims to appeals
Personal injury claims have two basic elements: liability and damages. Proof that someone else’s negligence contributed to your injuries is not enough, however. You must also be able to demonstrate the nature and extent of your injuries.
Also note that personal injury claims do not typically include a claim for damage done to property, such as a car or a fence. Rather, they correspond only to personal injuries sustained by either yourself or family members.
If you believe your case has merit, don’t delay. Most states impose a time limit for which you can file a claim or lawsuit, called a “statute of limitations.” Statutes of limitations differ from state to state depending upon injury type, so be prepared.
The most common sources of personal injury claims include:
- Car Accident
- Motorcycle Accident
- Truck Accident
- Hit and Run
- Medical Malpractice (general care, equipment, pharmaceuticals, birth, etc.)
- Work Related Injuries / Workers’ Compensation
- Slip and Fall
- Product Liability
Three Legal Options
Once a civil “complaint” (a lawsuit) is filed, the process typically starts with a period of discovery, during which information is exchanged between parties before a hearing begins. Depending on the complexity of the case, the discovery process can be either informal or formal (written statements, recorded depositions, rules for gathering/presenting evidence).
- Informal settlement: Using the court system to resolve cases takes time and money, which is why most accident or injury disputes are settled out of court, amongst insurers and attorneys representing either side. After negotiations are complete, an agreement is written in which both sides agree to resolve the matter through payment of an agreeable amount – forgoing any further legal action.
- Formal Lawsuit: This is when an individual files a civil complaint against another person, business, or government agency that alleges negligence or carelessness on the part of the defendant that caused injury or harm. Testimony and evidence is presented by both parties to a judge who then makes a ruling or judgement.
- Mediation or Arbitration: Arbitration can be voluntary or mandated by the court. The court may appoint an arbiter or arbitration panel or you may have the option of selecting your own. When the courts are congested and/or fees are high, this may be a good option. After the discovery process concludes, testimony and evidence is presented to an arbiter or panel who then makes a binding decision.
Collecting or appealing after a judgment
A favorable decision does not necessarily mean the process is over. The losing party may be insolvent (unable to pay) or may simply refuse to pay for whatever reason. Most states allow for a post-judgment discovery in order to assess the debtor’s sources of income and debts, should collection become difficult.
If necessary, an individual debtor’s wages or bank accounts may be garnished at a predetermined rate. If your case is against a business, law enforcement personnel may be called upon to seize assets or equipment. In either situation, state law generally requires an attorney to be involved in the collection process.
Take the next step
First, get medical attention for any physical or mental issues you may be experiencing after your accident. Medical professionals can also provide documentation or evidence pertinent to your case. Next, find out if your accident warrants making a legal claim – and – safeguard your rights. Have your case reviewed by an experienced personal injury lawyer to determine eligibility and critical next steps.
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