Personal Injury Law: What You Need to Know
Most of us have heard the phrase "personal injury," but many people may not be sure exactly what it means.
Common examples of personal injury negligence claims include car accidents, slip and fall claims (also called "premises liability" cases), products liability and professional malpractice cases. Injuries that occur at work are generally referred to as "industrial" claims and are governed by worker's compensation laws.
Who will pay for my medical bills?
Under the law, if someone else causes an accident, they are liable for the medical bills as well as pain and suffering directly as a result of the accident. Remember, however, that the other person may not have any insurance, or enough to pay the bills, and sometimes there may be a dispute as to who was at fault or whether all the injuries and treatment are directly related to the accident. It is usually best to first submit your bills through your own health insurance. A lawyer can advise you on questions of liability and available insurance coverage as well as medical liens or rights of reimbursement.
What are "damages" and can I collect money for pain and suffering?
Under the law, personal injury "damages" include past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages as well as the "pain and suffering" you have experienced or will likely experience in the future. There is no formula or precise way to calculate pain and suffering, however, because every case is different.
What is a wrongful death case?
If someone dies as a result of someone else's fault, the surviving family members can bring a "wrongful death" claim. In Arizona, the only persons who can bring such a claim are the parents, the surviving spouse and the natural children of the person who died. The legal term "loss of consortium" is used to describe the loss or harm suffered by each person based on his/her relationship with the family member who died.
Do I need a lawyer to make a claim?
Although you are not required to have an attorney to make a personal injury claim or to negotiate with an insurance adjuster, an attorney will help you understand your legal rights. If you caused an accident or may be responsible for someone else's injuries, an attorney will usually be hired by your own insurance company to represent you depending on the type of claim and coverage.
How long do I have to pursue a claim?
For most negligence cases in Arizona, you must file a lawsuit within two years of the date of the accident or injury or it will be barred by the statute of limitations (legal deadlines). Be careful, however, because some deadlines can be as short as six months, and there are different requirements for making a claim against government agencies or employees, for example, or if you were hurt on the job.
How are personal injury attorneys paid?
Most personal injury lawyers are paid on a "contingency fee" basis, meaning the attorney's fees will be a percentage of any settlement or financial award. Costs, such as filing fees, and the cost of obtaining medical records or hiring expert witnesses, are often advanced by the lawyer, but are separate from attorney's fees.
How can I find an attorney?
One of the best ways to find a lawyer is to get a referral from a trusted friend or family member. You can also go to the State Bar of Arizona's Web site at www.azbar.org and select "Find a Lawyer" to search for Arizona attorneys by name, practice area, office location or languages spoken. To find the names of attorneys who are certified as specialists in a particular field, select "Legal Resources," and then click on "Find a Certified Specialist."
What to Do if You Are Involved in an Accident
The most important thing is your health.
If necessary, go to the emergency room or follow up with your regular doctor. You should bill all treatment through your regular health insurance, if you are covered. Some doctors will agree to provide treatment and wait to be paid from a settlement.
Pay close attention to the details of how the accident occurred.
Try to find out who was responsible for causing the accident or injury. You should call the police and request that a report be made when you are involved in an accident that was someone else's fault. If the police do not do so, you should obtain the contact information for everyone involved and their insurance companies as well as the names and contact information of any witnesses.
Talk to your insurance agent.
After an accident, review your own insurance policy and talk to your insurance company or agent. You may be entitled to payments for medical bills ("med pay coverage") and your own car insurance may apply if the other driver does not have insurance or if there is not enough insurance ("uninsured and underinsured motorists" coverage).
Always report the accident to the other person's insurance company.
Always be polite and cooperative when reporting the accident, but remember that you generally do not need to give a recorded statement nor should you talk about your injuries until you are released from your doctor's care.
Document your injuries and expenses.
Keep track of any expenses you incur, including bills and receipts, and be sure to document any time lost from work due to the accident. Take photographs of the vehicles or the accident scene, as well as your own injuries, if applicable.
What to do if you caused or may be responsible for the accident.
Never leave the scene of an accident. You will need to cooperate by providing information to the police or sometimes to your employer if the accident happened while you were on the job. If you may be at fault for causing an accident and you have insurance, you should report the accident to your own agent or insurance company, and they will usually be able to take care of investigating the accident, settling any claims based on the available coverage, or hiring a lawyer to defend you, if necessary.