Your Personal Injury Case – Understanding the Law

By: Casey W. Stevens

When you are injured in an accident, you could be facing months or even years of recovery. You could have lost wages, property loss, and staggering medical bills as a result of your injuries and your life may never be the same. When your accident was the result of someone else’s negligence or reckless behavior, you could be entitled to compensation from the responsible party. It may be necessary to file a personal injury lawsuit in order to receive the money that you need and deserve to cover the expenses that you face. Lawsuits are a process. It is important to have a precursory understanding of the basic steps involved before beginning so that you know what to expect and when.

The Rules

Before filing a personal injury claim, you must have injuries and losses that warrant compensation beyond what is being offered by the insurance company, be fairly confident that you can prove negligence or recklessness, and file your claim within the statute of limitations within your state (in Georgia, the statute of limitations is typically two years). Because the law is a complex, living, breathing thing that is constantly changing, it is always in your best interest to consult with an attorney. A qualified personal injury attorney can help you understand these rules and how they apply to your particular case. But remember, when you hire an attorney the goal is to recover compensation equal to or more than what you would have been able to recover on your own, plus attorney fees. We will not take a case if a potential client will be better of handling it themselves.

The Summons and Complaint

In order to file a personal injury claim, a complaint that describes your claim in detail must be filed with the court. Once a complaint is filed, the defendant is served with a summons notifying them of the complaint and requiring them to appear in court to respond. Neither you nor your lawyer will contact the defendant – the summons and a copy of the complaint will be hand delivered to them by a process server or other state official. Once in receipt of the complaint, the defendant (or their attorney) must respond to the complaint in writing. The summons will also notify the defendant of the date of the first hearing that is set by the court.

The Proof

When you file a personal injury claim, you believe that you have suffered as a result of someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or intent to cause harm. However, believing something does not make it true, so your lawyer will need to provide proof to support your claim. Understanding the legal definitions of these terms will help you in talking to your attorney as you move forward with your case.

  • Negligence occurs when a defendant causes an accident by failing to act in an acceptable manner, for example failing to yield or speeding.
  • Recklessness is a little different – when a defendant engages in activity that is known to be dangerous and that activity results in injuries to others, (excessive speed or texting while driving) then he is guilty of recklessness.
  • Intent occurs when the defendant made a conscious decision to cause harm and is most common in assault cases.
  • There is also strict liability which is most commonly associated with defective products and requires no proof of the defendant’s negligence, recklessness, or intent.
The Standard of Proof

Personal injury cases are typically not as difficult to prove as criminal cases. The prosecution in a criminal case is required to prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but you and your lawyer do not have to provide such definitive proof. A "preponderance of evidence" is all that is required for personal injury cases. Basically, if the evidence is enough to indicate that the defendant is more than 50% responsible based on the evidence that you present, then you have satisfied the legal burden of proof for liability. Many times, after a criminal case results in an acquittal, the victims or their families pursue a personal injury case against the defendant and are successful in proving liability even after a verdict of “not guilty” based on the same evidence.

Compensation

In addition to property damage and medical bills, your claim may include compensation for lost wages, loss of quality of life, and other pain and suffering as a result of your injuries. Pain and suffering compensation is subjective, while it could be nothing, it could also be much more than the medical bills, lost wages, and damaged property combined. There are cases, however, where your own responsibility in the accident results in a reduction of the compensation that you are entitled to.

The Process

The process of reaching a settlement in a personal injury case is can be a long one. Most personal injury cases are a series of negotiations that never make it to the inside of a courtroom. Your lawyer and the lawyers for the other side will go back and forth in negotiating a settlement that both sides are satisfied with. These cases only go to trial when an equitable agreement cannot be reached.

Contact the Law Offices of Casey W. Stevens today if you or someone you love has been injured in an accident due to someone else’s negligence.