An injury can be life-altering. Serious injuries can force people to change the way they live and can prevent them from engaging in activities they used to enjoy. When a serious injury occurs due to the negligent behavior of another person, the injured party can seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. For some people, even the word “lawsuit” is intimidating. However, understanding the process as well as preparations that can be made before a lawsuit begins may help to ease some of that stress.
How Personal Injury Lawsuits Work
No two personal injury lawsuits will happen the same way. However, the general process is the same for most cases. These steps include preparing for the lawsuit as well as the process of the actual litigation. Some people can settle their case without ever needing to file a lawsuit. However, the steps that are usually taken when a lawsuit is necessary are as follows.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can help an injured person long before a lawsuit is even filed. They can do this through a pre-trial investigation in which they go over all of the evidence compiled so far and collect as much information about the incident that caused the injury as possible. A thorough investigation could lead to a personal injury case being settled without a lawsuit, depending on the severity of the case and how obvious the liability is. At Pierce, Sloan, Kennedy & Early LLC, we will do everything in our power to help our clients avoid the stressful and often emotional litigation process.
Summons and Complaint
If a case does not lend itself to settlement without a lawsuit, the next step includes filing a Summons and Complaint with the appropriate court. This step is crucial to a successful personal injury lawsuit in that the case may not be heard if there are any inaccuracies. A Complaint will include information about the accident, the injury, and why the injured believes the other party is liable. This Complaint needs to be served to the defendant within 120 days.
The defendant and their legal team will construct an Answer. The Answer will explain why the defendant is not at fault and may even attempt to place blame back on the injured party.
Discovery occurs before the trial. This is the period in which each side works with their legal team to discover evidence. This includes specific actions such as asking the other side to produce evidence, asking questions (known as interrogatories) to the other side, contacting witnesses, and more. An injured person may use this time to collect medical records, insurance information, photographs of the scene of the accident, and other evidence.
A deposition is when an attorney takes the testimony of a witness or party in a lawsuit prior to the trial. Depositions are taken under oath, meaning anyone being deposed is legally required to tell the truth. The answers given to questions asked during a deposition can be used in court. Attorneys depose their own clients as well.
Mediation allows both parties to negotiate their case with an independent third party, known formally as a mediator. A mediator may be a local attorney who is not associated with the case at hand. South Carolina requires mediation before allowing a case to go to trial. Both parties, their lawyers, and insurance adjusters may be present during mediation. A mediator may work to resolve the case during mediation by showing each party how much they may lose if the case goes to trial. However, mediation is not always successful. When it doesn’t work out, the case heads to trial.
A trial occurs when a case cannot be settled in any fashion outside of court. During a personal injury trial, a jury will decide whether the injured party is entitled to compensation for the damages they incurred in the incident that left them injured. They will also decide how much the injured party is owed and whether the defendant should pay punitive damages.
Proving Liability in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Anyone who makes a personal injury claim will be responsible for proving that the defendant caused their injuries by being negligent. This can be difficult considering the wide scope of personal injury cases. However, there are some basic elements that apply to every case and that need to be proven for a case to be successful. Those elements include:
- The defendant had a duty to exercise reasonable care: Exercising reasonable care means operating with the amount of caution and care a rational person in a similar position would. For example, motorists have a duty to operate with reasonable care while out on the road. They owe this duty to their passengers, to other drivers, and to pedestrians. This duty must be established to prove that a defendant has behaved negligently.
- The defendant breached the duty to exercise reasonable care: The plaintiff and their legal team will be responsible for proving that the defendant failed to meet the duty of care they owed to the plaintiff. This is one of the most difficult parts of a personal injury lawsuit and compiling as much evidence as possible can help prove the duty was breached. A motorist who looks at their phone while driving or drives under the influence may be liable for breaching a duty of care.
- Establishing causation: Once it has been established that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff and that the duty was breached, the plaintiff will be responsible for proving the injuries they received were a direct result of the breach. This is where medical bills, medical records, and witness accounts from healthcare professionals can be especially beneficial.
- The plaintiff suffered damages: The final element of a personal injury lawsuit is proving that the plaintiff suffered damages and/or losses because of the negligent behavior of the defendant. Evidence, such as bills and repair estimates, can be helpful in proving this to the court. Some damages are not tangible, such as mental anguish, so the plaintiff’s deposition can be useful in proving their damages as well.
A personal injury claim cannot be successful if any one of these elements cannot be proven. An experienced personal injury attorney can help make sure a plaintiff collects the best evidence for their case to prove these elements to the court.
Compensation in Personal Injury Lawsuits
If a plaintiff is successful in proving their case to the courts, they will likely receive compensation for the damages they suffered. There are two types of compensation that can be awarded in a personal injury lawsuit. Compensatory damages are meant to reimburse the plaintiff for the costs related to their injuries and for the pain they endured because of it. Punitive damages are designed to act as a form of punishment for the defendant’s negligence.
Compensatory damages, also known as economic damages, are provided to a plaintiff to compensate them for expenses related to their injuries that can be quantified. These are broken down further into special and general compensatory damages. Special compensatory damages include reimbursement for the following types of costs:
- Medical bills: Being injured in an accident does not come cheap. Hospital stays, physical rehabilitation, prescription medications, and at-home care can become expensive very quickly.
- Lost property: Accidents often result in damaged property that loses its value or becomes unusable, such as a totaled vehicle. Special compensatory damages can provide a plaintiff with the value of such property.
- Lost wages: Injuries sustained in an accident can leave someone unable to work for an extended period of time. When this happens, they can be awarded the number of wages they lost out on as compensation in a personal injury lawsuit.
General compensatory damages apply to damages that do not have an assigned monetary value. Some examples of general compensatory damages include:
- Pain and suffering: Quantifying how much a person’s pain and suffering is worth can be difficult. The courts may assess medical records or take statements from doctors to help them come to a conclusion. Compensation is often awarded for long-term physical pain as well as emotional distress caused by the injury.
- Diminished quality of life: A person’s quality of life may be lowered because of injuries sustained in a severe accident. This sort of compensation is often awarded to amputees.
- Loss of enjoyment: Certain injuries can prevent someone from engaging in hobbies that used to bring them joy. Compensation is available for people who can no longer take an active role in their children’s lives, play sports, etc.
Statute of Limitations on Personal Injury Cases
The statute of limitations on personal injury claims is 3 years in the state of South Carolina. This means that a person has 3 years from the date they were injured to file a claim. Claims filed after this period may not be heard by the courts.
Our Law Firm Can Help
If you have been injured by a negligent party and need legal assistance to seek justice, contact Pierce, Sloan, Kennedy & Early LLC today. We understand how devastating injuries can be to a client and their family, which is why we want to help you fight for the maximum compensation available to you. We are passionate advocates for the injured. Contact us today at (843) 968-0886 or online to schedule a consultation.