What does “file a claim” mean?

Filing an accident or personal injury claim is the first step in a lawsuit. For many people, that may sound intimidating. But it really boils down to telling the justice system that someone else’s irresponsible behavior cost you money, time and suffering, and that you deserve to be financially compensated for those costs.

Nobody wants to be involved in a lawsuit. However, filing an accident claim is the only way to make sure that you receive justice from the person or company that caused your accident. It is not about getting revenge; it’s about getting the resources you need to physically heal and take care of your family in the process. In addition, filing a claim is the best way to make sure that the person who caused your injury is held accountable for their actions.

Learn more about filing an accident claim here.

 

What does “personal injury” mean?

Personal injury means just what it sounds like: an injury that happens to a person’s physical body. It is a legal term that is meant to distinguish between injury to your physical body as opposed to your property or your reputation. Depending on your situation, you may file a claim for personal injury as well as a claim for property damage.

 

What does “negligence” mean?

“Negligence” means failure to act with the caution that a reasonably prudent person would use in the circumstances that led to your accident. It is a legal term that indicates that while the person or company responsible for your accident did not intend to cause you harm, their actions still led directly to your injury.

 

What does “wrongful death” mean?

“Wrongful death” means that someone was killed as a result of negligence or intentional act of another person or company. It is a legal term for the charges that members of a victim’s family can bring against the party responsible for the death of a loved one. Wrongful death is different from murder in that it is a civil charge, not a criminal charge. A civil charge requires a lesser standard of proof than criminal charges. In a civil case involving wrongful death, if the defendant is convicted, they owe a debt to the surviving family members, not to society.

Learn more about wrongful death here.

 

What is a statute of limitations?

A statute of limitations is the amount of time you have after an injury or accident to file a claim in the legal system. Every state has different rules around this time limit.

For example, many states maintain that if you were injured on the job or through another person or company’s negligence, you have 2 years from the time of the accident to file a personal injury claim. If a motor vehicle was involved (as in a car accident, motorcycle accident or truck accident), you have 3 years to file a claim.

If you do not file a claim within the statute of limitations, you lose your right to bring the matter to court ever again. However, in some accident situations, you may not experience the most severe symptoms of injury until months or even years later. By then, it may be too late for you to receive financial compensation because the statute of limitations may have passed.

An accident attorney can help you get access to expert medical opinions about your long-term health. With these expert predictions about the effects of your injury, you can file a claim for financial compensation that will pay for the medical treatment you will need over the long term.

Even if you don’t consider yourself badly hurt, it is vitally important for you to speak with an accident attorney if you have suffered injury.

 

What are “damages?”

Damages are a financial award that the court orders to be paid to an accident victim as compensation for their loss or injury. Each state has specific rules for how damages are awarded, depending on the type of accident you have suffered and when it happened.

There are two types of damages that may be awarded. Compensatory or “actual” damages are meant to reimburse you for the costs you have incurred because of your accident. This would be for things like an ambulance ride, your hospital stay, medical treatment, the cost of fixing your vehicle, and loss of income during your recovery. Compensatory damages may also apply to trauma or emotional distress you have suffered from your accident.

Punitive damages are an additional amount that is meant to punish the person responsible for your accident. These are awarded in cases where the other person’s behavior is found to be especially irresponsible or harmful.

Some states have caps, or limits, on the amount of money that can be awarded for non-economic injuries. This means that you may only be compensated up to a certain amount, outside of reimbursement for expenses or lost income.

 

What does “liability” mean?

Liability means a person’s legal responsibility for their acts or failure to act. It is the main thing that must be proved in a lawsuit.

 

What does “comparative fault” mean?

“Comparative fault” is the percentage of fault that the court decides each person bears for an accident. This is decided by hearing testimony from both parties involved in the accident, as well as examining evidence and hearing from witnesses, medical experts, police officers and others.

Different states have different laws about how to determine comparative fault. In Colorado, the courts use a “modified comparative fault” rule. According to this rule, whatever damages you are awarded will be reduced by the percentage of fault that the court decides you bear.

For example, the court may award you $100,000 in damages for your injury, but determine that you were 10 percent at fault in the accident. In that case, you would receive $90,000.

The one exception to this rule happens if the court determines you and the other party are equally at fault in the accident. If you are determined to be 50 percent at fault, you receive no financial damages according to state law.

On the other hand, in California, the “pure” comparative fault rule works almost the same way. Unlike Colorado, there is no exception preventing you from being awarded damages even if you are 50% or greater at fault. The Court or jury will simply award damages purely based on the percentage fault determined between the parties.

The comparative fault rule is one strong reason why accident victims should work with an accident attorney before going to court. An experienced accident attorney will be able to advise you on the best course of action for your case—whether to file a lawsuit or to negotiate a settlement with the person who caused your accident—in light of the comparative fault rule.

 

What is a settlement and how is it different from going to court?

A settlement refers to a resolution made between disputing parties about a legal case. However, people often use the same word to refer to the amount of money that one party agrees to pay the other in compensation for their injuries or suffering.

When you reach a settlement, that is known as “settling” between the parties. It usually results from the defendant (the person responsible) agreeing to some or all of the claims by the plaintiff (the accident victim) and offering a financial amount that satisfies the plaintiff. The two parties may settle either before going to court, or after.

The advantage of settling is that it lets both parties avoid the sometimes lengthy and stressful process involved in going to court. However, some settlements require court approval. In addition, in some cases going to court can offer you a better outcome for your case.

There are many factors to consider in making this decision, including the specific laws that apply to your accident, the length of time that your case is likely to take, and the level of accountability that the other person should be held to. An experienced accident attorney will know when it is better for your situation to seek a settlement versus going to court.

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