Oakland Law Collaborative members Alexsis Beach and Rachel Lederman, Geghamyan Law Office, and Flynn Law Office are skilled and caring personal injury lawyers.
What is a “Personal Injury” Case?
“Personal injury” cases are legal disputes that arise when someone is hurt in an accident of some kind, someone else is responsible for that harm. A personal injury case can be resolved through civil court proceedings that find a person legally at fault through a court judgment, or, more commonly, such disputes may be resolved through informal settlement before any lawsuit is filed.
- Formal Lawsuit: Unlike criminal cases, which are initiated by the government, a formal personal injury case typically starts when a private individual (the “plaintiff”) files a civil “complaint” against another person, business, or government agency (the “defendant”), alleging that they acted carelessly or irresponsibly in connection with an accident or injury.
- Informal Settlement: In reality, most disputes over accidents are resolved through informal early settlement, usually among those personally involved in the dispute, their insurers, and attorneys representing both sides. A settlement commonly takes the form of negotiation, followed by a written agreement in which both sides give up any further action (such as a lawsuit), choosing instead to resolve the matter through payment of an agreeable amount of money.
(Note: the “middle ground” between a lawsuit and an informal settlement is alternative dispute resolution procedures like mediation and arbitration.)
What is a Statute of Limitations?
An injured person has a limited time in which to file a lawsuit, called a “statute of limitations.” Generally speaking, the period of time dictated by a statute of limitations begins when you are injured.
Although in California, the statute of limitations for a personal injury case is generally two years, there are things you should do immediately to protect your rights.
What should I do if I am in an accident?
- Check yourself and others for injuries. Call an ambulance if you are hurt.
- If you are able, move your bike or car to a safe place, but close by.
- Notify the police, even if the accident is relatively minor. While many of us are uncomfortable calling the police, this is necessary to document the accident. If possible, remain at the scene until after the police arrive. Insist that the police officer file a report, and request a copy.
- Gather complete information, including the involved people’s drivers’ licenses, insurance company and policy number, license plate, and home addresses and telephone number for all drivers and witnesses.
- Take notes about the accident, including location and specific damages to persons, cars and bikes.
- If the other driver’s auto registration is in another name, make a note of the reason for that.
- Note whether a driver who injured you was on the job or driving a company/work vehicle.
- Even if you think you may have been partially at fault, exercise your right against self-incrimination; don’t tell anyone the accident was your fault. Such a statement may be used against you even if it turns out you were technically not at fault.
- It is important to seek medical treatment promptly if you are injured and to follow your health care provider’s recommendations for follow up care. Photograph visible injuries and begin keeping a journal of how your injuries impact your life.
- You have to report the accident to your own insurance carrier if you have one. You do not have to speak with the other driver or give a statement to their insurance company. It is not a good idea to give a statement before talking to your own lawyer.
- Get legal advice as soon as possible. Oakland Law Collaborative members Flynn Law Office, Geghamyan Law Office, and Alexsis Beach and Rachel Lederman are experienced in evaluating and handling personal injury cases.
What happens if I file a lawsuit?
You become the plaintiff in the case and the person who injured you becomes the defendant. Lawyers for each side (and for the insurer) typically begin gathering facts through exchange of documents, written questions (interrogatories) or depositions (questions that are asked in person and answered under oath). This process is called discovery. After discovery, many cases get settled before trial. Only a small percentage of personal injury actions ever go to trial.
What will I get if I win my case?
If you win, a judge or jury awards you money, known as damages, for your injuries. That amount can include compensation for such expenses as medical bills and lost wages, as well as compensation for future wage losses. It also can compensate you for physical pain and suffering. In addition, you may receive damages for any physical disfigurement or disability that resulted from your injury.
What does it mean to settle a case?
Settling a case means that you agree to accept money in return for dropping your action against the person who injured you. Oakland Law Collaborative members Geghamyan Law Office, Alexsis Beach and Rachel Lederman and Flynn Law Office will be able to give you a realistic assessment of whether a settlement offer is fair and of your chances in a lawsuit, to help you decide whether to accept the settlement offer – it’s your decision, not your lawyer’s.