A personal injury lawsuit is filed to recover damages for people who were injured because of the negligence of another. Cases involving serious, long-term injuries can yield large settlements but even with less serious injuries people can recover substantial damages for medical expenses and lost wages during recovery. In addition to monetary compensation, a lawsuit brought by a personal injury lawyer is a way to hold the negligent party responsible for their action or inaction.
Common personal injury cases:
- Wrongful death
- Pedestrian accidents
- Car accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Boating accidents
- Slip and fall
- Medical malpractice
- Defective products / products liability
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Assault and battery
Proving a personal injury case
The following four elements must be proved for a successful personal injury claim:
- Duty to exercise reasonable care – In order to be liable for an accident or injury, a person or organization must have a duty to exercise care. For example, a business owner must provide a safe environment or warn of a hazard to prevent a slip and fall. What defines reasonable care may depend on the situation.
- Failure to exercise reasonable care (negligence) – Next, a personal injury attorney must prove that the defendant breached their duty to exercise reasonable care. For example, a physician failing to order tests to confirm a diagnosis for symptoms.
- Causation – The third element that must be proved is causation. This means that there must be a direct link between the negligent behavior and the harm caused to the injured victim. At a minimum, the breach of duty must have at least contributed to the injury.
Note that in Washington State, the claimant’s own liability will be factored into the cause of the accident or injury.
- Actual damages suffered – There is no claim unless the victim suffered damages. It’s also generally not advisable to pursue a personal injury claim if the injuries were minor. Recoverable damages include: medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional trauma, loss of consortium, and disability.
A personal injury attorney can determine whether your case has the four elements required for a successful personal injury claim. In addition, they can help you identify the damages involved in your case and what each of them is worth to give you a total valuation for a reasonable settlement.
When should I file a personal injury lawsuit?
A personal injury claim should be pursued as soon as possible after the accident because all personal injury cases have a statute of limitations. A statute of limitations means that you have a set amount of time from the date of the injury to file a claim or your case will no longer be accepted. In Washington State the statute of limitations is generally three years. A personal injury lawyer will assess your situation and advise whether a lawsuit is the right approach to seek justice.
What kinds of damages can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit?
Depending on the severity of your injury, medical expenses and other financial losses can be devastating. The type of injury will affect the damages awarded in a personal injury lawsuit. Some examples include:
- Therapy, both physical and mental
- Medical treatments and expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering (physical and/or emotional)
- Mental anguish
- In-home care
- Loss of enjoyment of life
How is a personal injury lawsuit won?
A personal injury lawyer expects the defendant to hire a defense attorney who will vigorously attempt to reduce or eliminate the negligent party’s liability in the accident. A good personal injury attorney acts as an experienced and professional adversary who will overcome the common tactics used by defense and insurance lawyers. He or she will interview and retain witnesses, investigate and research issues and gather supporting documents.
How to file a personal injury lawsuit
There are many steps involved in filing a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury lawyer starts building a case by gathering all relevant documents and evidence required for a successful outcome. He or she will interview all witnesses, retain expert witnesses and may schedule medical evaluations of your injury to gather independent medical opinions about the cause and extent of your injuries.
After the information has been gathered and expert witness interviews have been conducted:
- The attorney will serve a “complaint” on the defendant. The complaint is an official, detailed document that describes the reason for the lawsuit and why the defendant is being sued. In Washington State, the defendant is typically allowed 20 days after the date of service to answer.
- In the pre-trial litigation phase (also called the “discovery” phase) your personal injury lawyer will discuss the details of the case with the defense attorney and the parties will decide if the case can be settled out of court or if it will continue to trial. This is typically the longest part of the case, sometimes stretching on for several months or years.
- Settlement or trial. The majority of personal injury lawsuits are settled out of court, sometimes right before a trial begins. Once a case is settled, the plaintiff usually receives damages within a few months, but it can vary depending on the state.
Patience is required for a personal injury lawsuit. In most cases attorneys are able to work out a settlement without going to trial, but it can take several months or more to come to an agreement. A settlement is often a more desirable solution since a trial typically takes longer with increased costs and there is a chance that the other party will appeal any trial decision.
Seek the help of a personal injury attorney
If you or a loved one is dealing with an injury caused by the negligence or willful conduct of another, you have enough on your plate. Let an experienced personal injury attorney fight for the justice and fair compensation that you deserve. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement from the insurance company that is five to ten times larger with the help of a lawyer. Call the most experienced practicing personal injury attorneys Bellingham has to offer at Tario & Associates, P.S. today for a FREE consultation! We have been representing residents of Whatcom County, Skagit County and surrounding areas since 1979. You will pay nothing up front and no attorney fees at all unless we recover damages for you!