As a McKinney, Texas personal injury lawyer, I have represented hundreds of clients. When potential clients first contact me, they often have similar questions. Personal injury cases, by their very nature, can be traumatic and confusing. Virtually no one expects to be a victim, yet once disaster strikes, time is of the essence. Legal representation is rarely at the forefront of a victim’s mind, but it may be necessary to secure compensation for medical costs and other injury-associated losses.
In the interest of saving injured victims time and money, I have compiled brief answers to the 10 personal injury questions I get asked most often:
- What is a personal injury case?
- What are some different types of personal injury cases?
- Should I hire a personal injury attorney?
- What is negligence and how does it affect my personal injury case?
- How soon should I file a lawsuit?
- What are the typical steps in a personal injury case?
- What if the person dies during the case?
- Are personal injury cases different for children?
- How long will it take for my personal injury case to be resolved?
- What types of technology do you use in personal injury cases?
While every case is different (and I could easily write an article on each of these questions!) I will answer each question as succinctly as possible. If you have been injured and would like advice specific to your situation, I highly recommend scheduling a consultation. The information provided in this article is generalized and may not apply to your exact circumstances.
Nevertheless, let’s dive right in with an overview of what constitutes a personal injury claim.
What is a Personal Injury Case?
A personal injury case is a civil lawsuit, which is quite different from a criminal case. In criminal cases, there is often an arrest, followed by charges filed by a local district attorney. Defendants may qualify for a free public defender when accused of some crimes. Civil lawsuits, on the other hand, are not handled by state-appointed attorneys. Most of the time they are about compensation in the form of money.
You have a constitutional right to a jury trial in civil cases (the 7th Amendment of the United States’ Constitution) – where a jury and judge determine if one party must compensate another party for wrongdoing. When dealing with personal injury, the question often revolves around whether one party is responsible for another person’s injuries. If so, the court will also consider whether the responsible party must compensate the injured person for their losses.
Every case is different and compensation for personal injury depend on factors like the cost of medical treatment, lost wages, and additional costs like home healthcare and physical therapy. On average, many personal injury lawsuits settle for an amount between $3,000 and $75,000. It is not unheard of for personal injury cases to settle for millions of dollars, but that is much rarer.
What are Some Different Types of Personal Injury Cases?
There is significant variety in the world of personal injury litigation, because the types (and cause) of different injuries are almost limitless. The most common types of cases we see are car accidents, trips and falls, defective products, and mass disasters. For instance, if a chemical plant catches fire, blows up, and kills people, a mass disaster personal injury lawsuit will likely result.
Should I Hire a Personal Injury Attorney?
If you have been injured and believe another person (or a company) is primarily at fault for your injuries, it is worth at least consulting with a personal injury attorney. Many attorneys offer free consultations, so it will not cost you anything to find out if you have a potential case. Information is power. The more information you are able to gather about your chances of success in a lawsuit, the better equipped you will be to make a decision about retaining an attorney.
One of the most important considerations when hiring an attorney is cost. Fortunately, the vast majority of personal injury cases are handled on a contingency fee basis. What this means is that money is not required “up front” and clients typically do not pay a fee unless they win. If they win, the lawyer charges a percentage of the recovery (usually anywhere from 33%-45%). So, if you pursue a personal injury case and win $100,000 your lawyer may retain anywhere from $33-$45,000 out of the final settlement.
Finding out whether you have a potential personal injury case is fairly low risk since many lawyers do not charge for consultations or require up-front retainers.
What is Negligence and How Does it Affect My Personal Injury Case?
Not all personal injury cases are black and white. Sometimes, an injury can be 100% the fault of another party – like if a drunk driver drives through the side of your house while you are sleeping. But, more often than not, the cause of injury is less than clear cut. You may even have a role in your own injury if, say, you are involved in a high-speed car accident where both you and the other driver were speeding.
The good news is that, in Texas, you may still be able to pursue personal injury litigation (and obtain a settlement) even if you are partially “at fault.” As long as the court determines that you are less “at fault” than the other party, you can still recover a proportional share. This is called comparative negligence, a legal term of art, which is admittedly tricky to understand.
For the sake of example let’s say a jury determines that you are 40% responsible for your own injuries (and the other party was 60% at fault). They also determine that you would be entitled to $100,000 in damages. Your share of the settlement would be reduced by 40%, leaving you with a settlement of $60,000.
How Soon Should I File a Lawsuit?
In Texas (as well as most U.S. states) the statute of limitations for a personal injury case is 2 years. That means, if you file a personal injury lawsuit 2 years and 1 day after the injury occurred, you may be out of luck. Because gathering evidence and pre-trial work can be time-consuming, it is best to consult with an attorney as quickly as possible. You do not want to risk losing your rights simply because you waited too long to find out if you have a case.
What are the Typical Steps in a Personal Injury Case?
The very first thing you should do if you or a loved one is injured is to make a report. This might be a police report in the event of a car accident, or a report to your employer or a store manager if you are injured in the workplace or at a retail location. This may be the single most important step you take in preserving your rights, because it becomes difficult to make a claim later if you do not report the injury when it first happens.
[An important note for Texas car accidents: if you are involved in a car accident that leads to more than $1,000 in property damage, law enforcement officers are required to write a report. Police officers are often busy, so they may decline to write a report if there is less than $1,000 in vehicle damages.]
Secondly, we recommend that you take pictures of any injuries (ideally with a date/time stamp on the photo). If you see a doctor, follow their advice, and keep a record of your visit. Also, write down any details you remember about the incident, your injuries, and what happens following the incident. Gather information about witnesses (including their contact information) if applicable. Each of these steps will serve as evidence of the incident and injuries if the case goes to trial.
Finally, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as practicable. There are statutes of limitations on most personal injury cases, so time is of the essence. At Underwood Law Office, we offer free, no-obligation consultations so that you can find out if you have a potential case without incurring unnecessary costs.
Once you meet with a lawyer and decide to move forward with a case, you are typically looking at the following steps:
- Your lawyer files the case with the appropriate court
- The other side is served with a copy of the case paperwork (called a Petition) and has a certain amount of time to file a reply.
- After the other side replies, discovery may begin. Discovery often involves interviewing witnesses, depositions, and gathering evidence. Discovery is often the most time-consuming part of a case and can take anywhere from 1-2 years depending on the complexity of your case.
- You will receive a trial date and/or you may attempt to mediate. Mediation is an effort to get parties to reach a settlement before going to trial. If the parties are able to agree, the case may not have to go to trial. Roughly 98% of personal injury cases are resolved before trial – saving everyone time and money.
- If the case is not resolved pre-trial, all involved parties (as well as witnesses) will go to trial. Personal injury trials are rare and often occur when the facts of a case are disputed or there are allegations of comparative negligence.
What if the Person Dies During the Case?
Sadly, some personal injury cases are so extreme that a victim may pass from their injuries before a jury ever reaches a verdict. Likewise, some individuals die instantly from their injuries – leaving their families to pursue a lawsuit on their behalf. When this happens, an individual’s estate (which usually includes that individual’s surviving spouse, children, or family members) can continue the case on the victim’s behalf.
Any settlement will go to the victim’s beneficiaries as designated in their Will, or absent a Will, passes to heirs according to state intestacy laws.
Are Personal Injury Cases Different for Children?
If a child is wrongfully injured, there are special procedures for bringing a personal injury lawsuit. While courts recognize that children can be victims and may be entitled to compensation just like an adult, minors cannot file lawsuits or negotiate their own settlements. Courts assume that individuals under the age of 18 (for the most part) cannot make legal decisions for themselves. In the context of personal injury, this means that a child’s parents or legal guardian must file a personal injury lawsuit (through their attorney) on the child’s behalf.
Depending on the age and mental capacity of the injured child, they may be able to participate in their own case by offering testimony. Most courts only accept testimony of older children, as long as they are mentally capable of understanding the nature of the court proceedings.
How Long Will It Take for My Personal Injury Case to be Resolved?
Every case is different, but personal injury cases, on average take anywhere from a few weeks to two years. Cases involving mass disasters tend to take much longer. For instance, we have 182 clients that were injured in 2013 in the West Texas fertilizer plant explosion and that case is ongoing nearly eight years later.
What Types of Technology Do You Use in Personal Injury Cases?
Technology has changed everything, and personal injury law is no different. For the most part, technology has enabled lawsuits to proceed more quickly and efficiently since evidence can be shared digitally. Even better, technology has helped prove facts in a case – through the use video surveillance (which may show how an injury occurred), vehicle data (which may show how fast you were travelling prior to an accident), and smartwatch/phone data (which can show evidence as specific as heartrate and activity levels before, during, and after an injury).
For a free legal consultation, call (972) 535-6377
Underwood Law Office Helps Victims in Texas and West Virginia
If you or a loved one have been injured in Texas or West Virginia, we can help. If you would like to gather more information specific to your case (and discuss strategy) we offer a free, no-obligation consultation. You can contact our Texas office at 972-480-6337 or our West Virginia office at 304-486-3350. Together, we can get your life back on track.