If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a wrong-way accident, you may not know the full extent of your legal rights, as well as the critical steps that should be taken to protect those rights. Speaking with an accident attorney who focuses on injury and wrongful death claims is an important step to protecting your right to valuable compensation. Most legal matters are concluded without the necessity of filing a lawsuit. However, some cases require a lawsuit and litigation.
Establishing Negligence is Critical to Winning Your Accident Case
In order to establish a claim for Negligence, the Plaintiff must be able to prove four key elements:
- That the Defendant had a lawful duty to use reasonable care.
- That the Defendant breached that duty.
- That there is legal causation between the Defendant’s conduct, the incident and the Plaintiff’s injuries.
- That the Plaintiff suffered documented losses or damages.
These four criteria can be simplified by the following abbreviations: duty, breach, causation, and damages. Unfortunately, these concepts are not as simple as they sound- there are tends of thousands of court decisions interpreting what they mean and how they apply in specific situations. To help you understand the basics of how negligence in a car accident case is established, here is a hypothetical example:
Suppose you were stopped at a red light, and a drunk driver rear-ended your car at 45 MPH, causing severe injuries to you and your passengers. In the event a lawsuit is filed, a formal complaint is filed with the court by the Plaintiff, and also served on the Defendant(s). Depending on which state in which the incident occurred, the complaint normally details the facts and circumstances of the incident, the parties, the allegations of wrongdoing, and the damages requested. It puts the Defendant(s) on notice that the injured-party intends to seek monetary damages for their injuries and losses caused by the Defendant(s). In the complaint, the attorney will detail the following:
- The names the parties involved.
- A statement of facts that explains the circumstances of the accident.
- A statement of the key elements necessary to establish negligence according to state law.
- A demand for damages.
In the aforementioned example, the Statement of Facts establishing negligence would normally include that the Defendant was at fault for following too closely and driving under the influence of alcohol. Here, the key elements for establishing negligence is met:
First Element – Duty. The driver had a duty to observe local traffic laws while operating their vehicle.
Second Element – Breach of Duty. The driver failed to act reasonably by failing to stop before he rear-ended the Plaintiff, as well as illegally operating their vehicle while intoxicated. In most states, as long as the arresting officer has a reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol, the officer may arrest and charge the driver with impaired driving.
Third Element – Causation. The Defendant’s own actions caused the accident, and the accident resulted in injury to the Plaintiff.
Fourth Element – Damages. In the context of auto accidents, damages generally come in the form of property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, Pain and Suffering, and, depending on the egregiousness of Defendant’s conduct as well as the jurisdiction in which the incident occurred, punitive damages.
Accident victims should understand that the applicable statutes and case law in every state is unique, and generally requires careful interpretation by an attorney who focuses their practice on accident injury claims. In some situations, Federal law will be involved as well. Some states have adopted comparative negligence laws, where the Plaintiff can still make a claim against a Defendant even if the Plaintiff is partially at fault (usually when Plaintiff is under 50% at fault) while a minority of other states apply modified contributory negligence rules in accident cases, where the Plaintiff is barred from recovery even if they are deemed to only be 1% at fault.
Contact an experienced attorney to find out which rules are applicable in your case and how to protect your legal rights. Proving negligence requires a detailed understanding and practical working knowledge of the rules of civil procedure, case law, evidentiary rules, court rules, and applicable state-specific statutes, in addition to taking lots of actions to protect your legal rights, such as ensuring all legal time deadlines and notice requirements are met, and preserving important evidence. For example, as time passes witnesses can be difficult to locate or they may forget what happened, and important evidence can be tampered with or disappear.
Assessing the True Value of Your Accident Claim
Evaluation of an accident injury claim action involves the calculation of lost wages, medical bills, vehicle repairs, rental car reimbursement, property damage, and difficult-to-value intangible damages, such as diminished earning capacity, punitive damages (when applicable), mental anguish, pain, and suffering and others. Other factors that could affect value are the jurisdiction, strength of the evidence, facts of the particular situation under the applicable statutory and case law, strength of witnesses, and more. Further, a wrongful death action brought by surviving family members might seek additional types of economic and non-economic damages such as:
- Funeral and burial costs
- Medical expenses incurred prior to death
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of financial support
- Loss of companionship (spousal loss of consortium)
- Loss of parental guidance for a child
- Loss of enjoyment of life
The decedent’s estate and/or the surviving family members may bring a wrongful death lawsuit depending upon applicable state law. It is important to recognize that wrongful death damages and the parties that can bring a wrongful death claim significantly vary from state to state, and only an experienced attorney can identify which types of damages are recoverable, and the best way to proceed in you or your family’s claim.
Time Limits on Accident Claims
Each state limits the amount of time that an accident victim has to file a lawsuit to obtain compensation for their accident losses. Some states have different time deadlines or statute of limitations for injury claims and wrongful death actions. These time deadlines can vary depending upon a wide variety of factors, including the facts and circumstances of the accident and the parties involved, the type of party being sued, the age of the accident victim(s), the type of claim, where the incident occurred, and more.
If you or a loved one have been harmed in any type of accident, it is crucial to speak with an attorney who specializes in accident law. A skilled attorney can interpret all of the common law, case law, and statutory law in light of the facts of your particular case to assess your claim, advise you of your legal rights, and determine the necessary actions to protect those rights. Attorneys can also present a case in the most persuasive and favorable light to maximize the value of your claim. Experienced attorneys understand how to value an accident victim’s claim and, when appropriate, can research settlements and verdicts involving similar facts and comparable jurisdictions to help determine the value of your case. Moreover, they can file your claim FAST, and handle the complicated legal issues so you can focus on getting well and taking care of yourself and your family.
Protect the Value of Your Claim By Speaking with an Experienced Attorney Today!
If a negligent driver has harmed you or a member of your family, protect your legal rights by speaking with an experienced accident attorney. All 50 states restrict the amount of time that you or your loved one have to file a claim and recover compensation for injuries, loss of life, property damage, medical expenses, and all other forms of monetary compensation—so it’s important not to delay in talking to an attorney! For your free consultation with an experienced accident attorney, call our national hotline 24/7 at 1-800-529-7766, or click here to Get Legal Help.