Have you recently been injured in an accident in California? If so, you might be entitled to compensation for those injuries. That compensation can go a long way toward paying down your medical bills, making up for lost wages due to the accident, and so much more. To obtain the funds you need to make your recovery easier, you need to file a personal injury lawsuit in California. Understanding the California personal injury lawsuit process is the first step to filing a successful claim in court.
The Basics of the California Personal Injury Lawsuit Process
In the immediate aftermath of an accident that led to injury, you might not be thinking about filing a lawsuit. You might be focused only on what happened and the emergency help you might need. That being said, the decisions you make at the scene of the accident can have a long-lasting impact on your health and your potential to recover damages in the personal injury claim process. Let’s look at what needs to happen to present the strongest case possible.
Get Medical Attention
First things first: Make sure you’re as okay as you can be. That means getting medical attention right away. If you have severe injuries, calling for emergency services is your first step. If you don’t seem to have severe injuries, you should go straight to the doctor’s office anyway. The idea is twofold: First, you want to be checked out thoroughly and have any injuries treated immediately. Injuries left untreated can quickly get worse. Second, by getting professional medical attention, you ensure that your injuries are well-documented. That record of injuries and treatment will be vitally important when you file a personal injury claim.
Get All the Evidence
The more evidence you have of what happened, the better off you will be in court. No detail is too small. Take photographs of the scene or record the aftermath in a video clip on your phone. If you were in a car accident and you happened to have a dash cam, the footage on that camera can be incredibly valuable when you file a personal injury claim.
If you were seriously injured and didn’t have the opportunity to record anything about the scene, write down everything you can remember as soon as possible. Memories can become fuzzy over time, so write it down while the thoughts are still sharp and clear.
Turning Onto a Larger Road
When we turn onto a more significant road, we should always yield the right of way to oncoming traffic.
This includes driving down side roads, parking lots, driveways, alleys, and private roads.
We need to take extra precautions because car accidents can coincide from almost any direction at the same intersection. So remember to pay attention to those yield signs!
Follow Proper Reporting Procedures
The way you report the accident depends upon what happened and where it happened. For instance, a car accident should always be reported to local law enforcement; if it needs to be reported elsewhere, they can give you guidance. If it happened at work or on a job site, follow your employer’s instructions for reporting the incident. No matter who the accident is reported to, remember to document everything, either by taking photographs and video, or writing it down. It’s also a good idea to get information from any witnesses to the accident.
Get a California Personal Injury Attorney
The California personal injury lawsuit process can be overwhelming. Fortunately, the attorneys at McCrary Law Firm are well-trained to handle every facet of your personal injury claim. We can look over your information to determine the strength of your claim and how to proceed, and then walk you through the process of recovering what you deserve.
What Can You Recover in a Personal Injury Lawsuit in California?
When we talk about recovering damages in a personal injury lawsuit, there are a few different types. Economic damages are meant to compensate you for medical bills, the costs of medication, the cost of a new vehicle or repair of the old one, any special equipment needed to deal with your injuries, and more. Economic damages are for things that have an actual dollar amount attached to them. You can present the court with receipts and estimates for these damages.
Non-economic damages are those that don’t have an objective value. This might include compensation for the pain and suffering you experienced after the accident. It might take into account loss of the ability to do things on your own or the loss of life’s pleasures – what is that worth? Members of a jury can’t put a clear dollar amount on these sorts of damages, but they can award a figure that reflects what they believe you’ve endured throughout the personal injury ordeal.
In the California personal injury lawsuit process, you will quickly discover there is no cap on the amount you can recover in economic or non-economic damages, with one exception: There is a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages awarded in a medical malpractice lawsuit in California. While economic damages as a result of medical malpractice have no limit, only $250,000 can be awarded for pain and suffering.
The Statute of Limitations on Personal Injury Claims in California
A statute of limitations exists in the legal world to prevent plaintiffs from coming to court with a case that could be decades old. The statute of limitations on personal injury claims in California says that if you have bodily injury as the result of an accident, you have two years from the date of the injury to file a claim. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as when the government is at fault for the accident or when extenuating circumstances exist. Most individuals, however, will have to abide by the two-year statute of limitations.
This is a good reason to hire an attorney as soon as you can, because they can keep you informed and up-to-date on the statute of limitations and help you decide the timing of your claim.
How the California Personal Injury Lawsuit Process Works
Filing a personal injury suit in California courts doesn’t start with the lawsuit itself. It actually begins with a letter sent to the individuals who were involved in the accident.
The Demand Letter
After we investigate your case and determine that you do have a basis for a personal injury claim, we will create a demand letter. This letter notifies the other party of your intent to file a claim to recover damages. It might be sent to the individual themselves, to their insurance company, or to their attorney (if they have one). The letter will explain the situation, why we believe they are liable for damages, and the compensation that we believe is fair. This will be their opportunity to settle out of court.
In many cases, the demand letter will be rejected or simply ignored. That’s when we file the lawsuit.
The Claim for Damages
If the demand letter doesn’t get any traction, your attorney will file a formal claim in the proper California court. The claim notifies the other party, now known as the defendant, of your intention to recover compensation for your injuries. The claim will explain the law, lay out the facts of your case, and make a compelling argument about why the defendant is responsible for your injuries and should be required to compensate you appropriately.
They could ignore the demand letter, but they can’t ignore a lawsuit. If they try to ignore it, the court will enter a default judgment in your favor – so it is in their best interest to respond. Though they might ask to settle the case, they will likely reject your claims and want to take the case to court.
The Discovery Process
After the initial back-and-forth in court, the discovery process begins. This requires both parties to disclose information and evidence from each side that might be relevant to the case and allows for each side to formally question witnesses and individuals who might shed light on what happened. This formal questioning is called a deposition, and it is given under oath. This means that the person giving the deposition is legally bound by what they say in the deposition. These testimonies can be a strong element of the case.
The Settlement Negotiations
When each side sees the discovery and evaluates just how strong the case really is, a settlement might be offered. In fact, the vast majority of cases wind up being settled before they go to trial. Your attorney will look at the discovery and the odds of winning at trial to come up with a number that you find acceptable, and then there will usually be some discussion between the two sides to settle the case.
What If Your California Personal Injury Claim Doesn’t Settle?
If the case doesn’t settle, it’s time to go to trial. Though the trial can be quite time-consuming, stressful, and expensive, sometimes the settlement offer is far too low to cover your medical bills – and that’s before you take into account other costs as a result of your injuries. Talk with your attorney to be certain that going to trial is the best course of action for you.
When you go to trial, a judge or jury will make the decision: Should you be awarded damages, and in what amount? The trial might last for anywhere from a day to several weeks, depending upon the complexity of the situation. And in the end, you might not get your compensation right away, as the judgment and award can be subject to appeal by either side.
Choose the Right Attorney for Your Case
When you are choosing an attorney to represent you in your personal injury lawsuit in California, look to a seasoned, trusted attorney at the McCrary Law Firm. Our attorneys serve Northern California car accident victims as well as those who have sustained other personal injuries and need help navigating their way through the courts. An attorney with a reputation for winning cases can be more than enough incentive for the defendant to offer a proper settlement, but if they don’t, we have the skills and knowledge to represent you well in the courtroom. To learn more about the California personal injury lawsuit process and how we can help you, get in touch today.