Florida Personal Injury Lawyer
Personal injury cases are among some of the most common types of legal cases brought in civil court. There is the potential for millions in settlements or restitution that can be awarded in such a case. However, many people are not aware of what constitutes a personal injury case or what their rights are in such a situation. That is why it is so important to educate yourself about the process and the legal system.
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What Is a “Personal Injury” Case?
The term “personal injury case” or “personal injury lawyer” gets tossed around quite a bit. However, what, exactly is a personal injury case? A personal injury case is a legal dispute or court case that comes about when one person injures or harms another person either willfully or through negligence. In such a situation, a person who has been injured (called the plaintiff) will take the one who injured them (called the defendant) to court to allow the legal system to determine if the defendant actually injured the plaintiff and, if so, how much the plaintiff is entitled to in terms of damages. Many times, these cases are settled out of court before they even reach a formal judgment. Such a settlement is negotiated by the attorneys for both sides as well as any insurance companies that may be involved and will usually conclude with a cash settlement and a written agreement stipulating to what happened.
A personal injury case differs greatly from other legal cases in that it is not actually filed by a government entity such as a district attorney. These are criminal cases that involve actual crimes as punished by the government and can entail jail time. A personal injury case is a lawsuit in which the plaintiff files a civil complaint against the defendant. In this case, the defendant may be one person, several people, or even an entire company. If the plaintiff was injured as a result of the negligence or carelessness of these defendants, then the plaintiff must prove such an injury and that the injury was a direct result of the defendant’s negligence in order to win their case.
What is a Statute of Limitations?
If you are involved in a personal injury lawsuit, then there is another term you are going to hear bandied about quite a bit: statute of limitations. This means that a plaintiff only has a fixed time frame during which they can bring a lawsuit. If you wait until after the statute of limitations and try to file the suit, the court will throw it out. This prevents people from, for instance, trying to sue a driver involved in a car accident years after the accident actually occurred. The statute of limitations time frame officially begins when the plaintiff is injured by the defendant. In some cases, such as with recent asbestos related lawsuits where the injury didn’t present itself for years, the statue of limitations doesn’t begin until the plaintiff discovers the injury or symptoms begin to manifest themselves.
The time frame involved in a particular case can vary from state-to-state. For instance, in Florida, according to Florida Statutes Annotated Section 95.11, a plaintiff has four years to file a legal claim against a defendant in a personal injury suit. This is defined as four years from the time of an accident or other injurious event. If you do not discover that you have been injured during that four year time period and the symptoms begin to show five years or longer after the accident, then the court may choose to extend the statute of limitations. If this is not the case, however, anyone filing a personal injury claim in Florida after the four-year time limit has expired will find his or her case rejected and thrown out of court. This only applies to cases brought against an individual or a business entity. If the case is against a city, county, or state government agency or office, then the statute of limitations is only three years from the date of injury.
What are the Types of Personal Injuries?
There are a variety of areas that can encompass personal injury claims. These aren’t just the typical “slip and fall” cases, but can include serious crimes that have led to your injury. They include:
- Criminal Assault and Abuse—A person who is the victim of an assault or abusive actions can also seek justice in a civil court case by bringing a personal injury lawsuit. If you have been the victim of an assault (including felony assault and battery) or abuse (such as child abuse, elder abuse, or spousal abuse/domestic violence) then you may be entitled to compensation for any injuries that you have received. In order to do this, you must have substantive financial losses including medical bills, therapy bills, and lost property or wages. You also must have cooperated with the criminal investigation of the assault and must not have contributed to the assault by provoking it. If these qualifications are met, and you file your claim within the statute of limitations, then you may have a legal claim against your attacker or abuser.
- School and Daycare Injuries—Another area that occurs more often than you might think are injuries that occur at school or daycare. We all want our children to be safe, and most are. But when a school or daycare employee fails to act in their role as a parental surrogate (the legal term is “in loco parentis”), then you may be able to bring a civil suit against the responsible. If your child is injured at one of these locations, an attorney can help you to determine if the school had a supervision plan in place, if the teacher used reasonable care to monitor your child, and if the injury was foreseeable or likely to occur under those circumstances. In order to aid such a case, it is important for the injury to be documented (by photographs and medical attention) and for witnesses to be interviewed. All of this can be handled by a knowledgeable personal injury attorney with experience in this area.
- Wrongful Death—The third main area involved in personal injuries is also the most tragic as it involves the death of a loved one. In a wrongful death case, the immediate surviving family members may bring a lawsuit against the person who negligently caused the death of their loved one. Immediate family member includes spouses or children and can never include friends of the family. These types of lawsuits can stem from a number of causes including car accidents, medical malpractice, nursing home negligence, and defective products. In a wrongful death suit, the family can ask for compensation for loss of earning/income potential as well as intangibles such as pain and suffering and even loss of intimate companionship (called “loss of consortium”).
- Other causes—Personal injury lawsuits cover a large range of possibilities that are hard to categorize. They can include everything from alcohol related injuries to gun accidents. One type of case that has earned a great deal of attention is mesothelioma cases involving asbestos. These include class action lawsuits that are done on behalf of a large group of people affected by a defective product. But, personal injury can also involve something that is not physically tangible such as defamation of character, wrongful termination, and employment discrimination.
The Four Points of a Personal Injury/Negligence Lawsuit
There are four main elements that you must prove in court to establish that you are the victim of someone’s negligent actions and that those actions led to your personal injury. These include:
- Duty—The defendant “owed a legal duty” to you in this situation. This could mean, for instance, that the defendant had a duty or obligation to other drivers to not drive recklessly or that a company had a duty or obligation to not sell defective and dangerous products.
- Breach—The duty that the defendant owed to you was broken when he or she acted negligently. For instance, if the driver who owes you and others a duty to drive safely was texting and driving, then that would constitute a breach of his or her duty.
- Causation—The next step is to prove that the defendant’s breach of his or her duty led to or caused the plaintiff’s injuries. For instance, if a person drives negligently and slams into another car causing the other driver to have a spinal injury, then the injury was caused by the negligent action.
- Damages—The final step is that the plaintiff must prove that he or she was injured by the defendant. This will require medical testimony or evidence in the form of medical reports. If a person is involved in a car accident but sustains no injuries from the accident, then there is no justification for a personal injury case.
Who is at Fault in A Personal Injury Case?
One of the aspects of a personal injury case that absolutely must be determined early on is who is actually at fault for the accident. If you are officially cited by the police as being at fault, then chances are you will be the one who could be held liable in a civil court case. One way to avoid this is to avoid making any kind of statements that might be construed as taking responsibility for the accident. For example, if you make a simple statement such as “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t see you there” your statement may be taken to mean that you are accepting that the accident was your fault. There are some other actions that can also help determine who is at fault in a case. These can include:
- A person may not be at fault if the injured party was somewhere where they were not supposed to be, such as a restricted construction zone;
- A person may not be at fault if the injured party also acted in a careless or reckless manner;
- If an accident takes place while the negligent party is work, then the employer may also be held liable for the accident;
- If a defective product injures someone, the manufacturer of the product as well as the individual product seller can both be held responsible.
Special Laws Governing Personal Injury Cases
In the state of Florida, there are two laws that can also impact your personal injury lawsuit. These have been put in place to limit these claims. An experienced lawyer in Florida can help you understand these laws and navigate their requirements. These laws include:
- Florida No-Fault Car Insurance Laws—If you are involved in a car accident in Florida, then your insurance is expected to cover your expenses including basic medical bills and lost income as well as damages. The other person’s insurance company will do the same for them. You cannot hold the other person responsible for more liability unless you suffer a “serious injury” that is permanent or includes some form of permanent scarring or disfigurement.
- Florida Comparative Negligence Law—Under this law, it is possible for the other party to countersue you claiming that you were partially responsible for the accident. If this is determined to be true, a percentage is assigned to each party detailing how much responsibility each side holds. Once this is determined, your compensation may be reduced proportionately based on the amount of liability you are determined to have.
How to Prevent Being a Defendant in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
It seems as if it can happen to anyone: one mistake and you are paying for it in a courtroom. But there are ways you can avoid being named as a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit. These include:
- Be careful—Whether you are driving or doing any type of activity that carries with it a modicum of danger, you should always be aware of your surroundings and not do anything that can be construed as negligent. For instance, never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol and never text and drive. Make sure that your business and your home is safe and kept orderly and tidy so that customers or visitors do not injure themselves because of disrepair. In addition, make sure that your business is properly lit so as to avoid slips and falls.
- Watch what you say—If you have an accident or injure someone, you should not let any feelings of sympathy make you say things that you shouldn’t. Do not say that it was “my fault” as this can be taken to be an admission of liability. In addition, do not speak with representatives of the insurance company without the presence of an attorney. These individuals are often more interested in protecting their self-interests and not yours.
- Know the laws—Do not think that ignorance of the law can protect you. If you run a business or rent a property, you should know and follow all of the laws and building codes so that you can keep from being found at fault in the event of a suit.
- Get full insurance coverage—Whether you are a driver, a businessperson, or just a homeowner, you need to have full liability coverage on your insurance. This will be your best protection in the event that you are ever sued.
How Can We Help
The attorneys of Wolf & Pravato have years of experience in the field of personal injury lawsuits. If you or a loved one have been injured due to the negligence of others, it is important that you speak to one of our attorneys as soon as possible to appraise you of your rights. The clock is ticking on the statute of limitations and you need to act as quickly as possible so that you can receive the compensation that you deserve. Contact us today!
Communities We Serve:
Port St. Lucie
West Palm Beach