A personal injury can include: a car accident, a slip and fall accident, or the negligence of another person.
Are you aware of your rights if you have been injured? Do you know how long you have to file a claim?
A tort claim or a personal injury claim is part of the law designed to protect you and your property if you are injured by another person. Every personal injury claim has two basic principles:
If you can prove the person who caused your injury was negligent, you may have a possible personal injury claim.
Q. Do I have a personal injury case?
A. There are two things to consider when evaluating your case:
- You must have experienced an injury to yourself or your property. However, a physical injury is no necessarily required to file a personal injury case; cases can involve different types of nonphysical losses and harms.
- Was the injury caused by someone else?
Q. What is involved with settling a personal injury claim?
A . A settlement can be discussed at any point once a personal injury claim is made. Once an offer for settlement is made, your personal injury lawyer should be able to assess the success rate of your case at trial and to conclude if taking the settlement would be the best option; the decision to accept a settlement offer and drop your personal injury lawsuit is yours and not the lawyers. If it is decided that the settlement is the best option, you will sign a release stating the defendant is released of any further liability in regards to your personal injury lawsuit. An compensation amount is agreed upon by both sides and in return the personal injury lawsuit is dropped.
Q. What is involved with filing a personal injury lawsuit?
A. Once you file a personal injury lawsuit, your role is considered the plaintiff and the person you filed suit against is the defendant. The first step for the lawyers for each side (and for the insurer) is the discovery phase. This discovery process consists of compiling the facts by means of exchanging documents, interrogatories (written questions), or depositions (questions answered under oath either in person or in written form). The second step is for each side to either settle or prepare for trial; it is common for cases to settle prior to a trial date. Trial can be decided by a judge or a jury; most plaintiffs will request for a jury to hear their case.
Q. How is a case handled if a person dies before filing a personal injury lawsuit?
A. There are laws that exist in each state that allows for action once someone cause the wrongful death of another. The response of legal action depends on if the plaintiff dies as a result to the injuries involved with the case or if they die for unrelated causes. In the situation that the plaintiff dies as a result of the injuries that brought the case, the named heir’s can recover compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. In the case that the person dies due to unrelated causes, the personal injury claim could still be brought on by a personal representative or executor of the plaintiff’s estate.
Q. What is the basis of responsibility (liability) for the person that causes my injuries?
A . Liability is dependent on the defendants negligence in causing the accident, rather than intention. The defendant’s liability considers if their actions were careless or lacked reason. Those actions are deemed “negligent” when they don’t meet a certain level of reasonable care to prevent causing harm to others in the circumstances that surround the case.
Q. Who is responsible for deciding if a defendant is liable in a personal injury lawsuit?
A. Depending on the trial, either a judge or a jury will be responsible with deciding how a “reasonable or ordinary person” would have behaved in the same situation. An example of this decision would be if the defendant in an automobile accident failed to stop at a traffic light or stop sign they would be considered liable due to their negligence of not following traffic laws.
Automobile Accidents in Alabama
Q. If someone in my carpool was injured in a car accident while I was driving am I responsible for her medical bills?
A. There are several states that allow for a no-fault automobile insurance that would protect you and could also include those riding in your car; this insurance compensates the injured parties up to a certain amount, regardless of liability. Those states that do not allow for no-fault insurance will still have “guest statutes” for automobiles that permit liability of drivers that cause injuries to nonpaying (guest) passengers when the driver’s actions are deemed negligent due to failure to use reason or care while operating the vehicle. In a state that with guest statutes, if the passenger can prove that they are not considered a guest passenger because the two of you agreed to share expense, then it is possible for the passenger to recover under regular negligence principles. There have also been situations where a driver was considered liable for negligence in operating the car or harm caused by known defects; they were not found liable in cases where injuries were caused by defects in the vehicle when the driver was not aware of those defects.
Q. I have an injury that was caused by an accident while I was riding a bus to work. Could the bus company be held liable for that injury?
A. Yes, it is possible. Bus lines are considered “common carriers”; they charge their riders for transport and in turn are responsible for providing their passengers with “the highest degree of care” and are also held at a different level of responsibility for their passengers. Since there is a higher level of responsibility, common carriers are required to exercise extra caution in order to maintain the safety of their passengers. The success of a personal injury case against a common carrier will be dependent on the circumstances of the incident. The deciding party in the lawsuit will have to consider and determine if the actions and circumstances of the case should be deemed negligent. Something also to consider is if the bus were hit by another car, the driver of the other car could be liable for the injuries as well.
Q. My child was born with a deformity due to injuries from an accident I was involved in during my pregnancy. Is my child able to file a personal injury lawsuit?
A . Legal action by a child for injuries that occur prenatally are allowed in many states. In states that allow no-fault automobile insurance, the chances to sue are normally narrow. If the baby dies after birth as a result of injuries due to an accident, most courts will allow a wrongful death lawsuit.
Q. Is it possible for someone to sue me if my car was stolen and wrecked by someone else, which caused injuries in the other involved party’s vehicle. Am I responsible for the thief’s actions and can the plaintiff win?
A. The chances of this situation being successful in a lawsuit are slim since the thief did not have permission to operate your car. However, laws concerning liability in situations similar to yours vary from state to state. Also under consideration would be the nature of how your car was stolen; if you left your keys in your car while it was unlocked you could be held liable due to negligence. There are courts that would not find you liable in that instance though because you could not possible know that those actions of leaving your keys in the car would ultimately result in the injuries caused by the thief. On the flip-side, a court could consider certain actions cause unreasonable risk of harm. For example, you left your car running while you were parked somewhere, it might be possible for you to be liable if your car was stolen and the thief caused injury to nearby children playing. If you are in a no-fault state, it could be impossible for someone to sue you.
Q. I was involved in an accident caused by a drunk driver after a night out. Are there other actions I can take besides suing the drunk driver?
A. There are some states that have passed a law called the Dram Shop Act. In those states, it is possible for your to file personal injury claims against the owner of the bar who served the drunk driver alcohol. This act is typically used in cases where an intoxicated driver injures someone while driving after they leave. The act could also be used if the drunk customer injured someone either on or off the bar owner’s property. There are other courts that do no find the bar owner liable unless the alcohol was sold and served illegally.
Personal Injuries caused on Your Property or at Your Home
Q. A salesperson that pays an unsolicited visit to my home injured himself on our front steps. Could he file a personal injury claim against me?
A. Yes, it is possible because the salesperson would expect you would warn them about any conditions on your property that would be dangerous, but not obvious. If he tripped and your steps were in good condition, a court would not find any liability on your part. On the other hand, if the salesperson tripped on your stairs because one of the steps was loose or wobbly, you would be liable for not posting a warning sign or repairing the steps.
Q. Would I be responsible for injuries caused by someone slipping and falling on an icy sidewalk in front of my house?
A. There are ordinances in some places that require property owners whose land is near a public sidewalk to keep that sidewalk free of ice and snow. There are other places where owners have no responsibility over public sidewalks during inclement weather. In those places where there is no responsibility, property owners may be liable for negligence if they clear the sidewalks and then in turn make them unsafe. Other than ice and snow accumulations, if property owners do not take reasonable action to correct any condition that would be considered dangerous, they could be held liable.
Q. Could I be responsible for injuries if a group of children are playing on a vacant lot that I own?
A. Yes, you could be responsible. The law will place more responsibility on property owners in cases where injuries involve children. The law considers children too young to be capable of understanding certain situations that are dangerous. There is a legal theory called the attractive nuisance doctrine that requires owners to warn children that may play on their land to be aware of potential dangerous artificial conditions on their property or they must take reasonable safety measures to protect the children. A good example of these safety measure would be if there was equipment or machinery on your vacant property that could cause unreasonable risk to children, it should be removed. If you fail to remove those hazards, you could possibly be responsibility for any injuries caused. There are some areas that replace the attractive nuisance doctrine with a duty of reasonable care under circumstances.
Personal Injuries involved on Others’ Property
Q. What if I get hurt while attending a party at my neighbor’s house?
A. Depending on the nature of your injuries, it is possible that you would be able to recover from your neighbor. Property and homeowners are required to notify their guests, or make safe, any conditions that would be deemed dangerous and would be unlikely to recognize. For example, if you tripped on a rug and injured yourself, you may be due compensation if you are able to provide proof that your neighbor was aware of other incidents where someone tripped over the same rug and you were not notified or aware of the dangers it presented. The homeowner should have removed the rug or fix the dangers by securing the rug to the floor.
Q. I tripped on a brick on a public sidewalk next to a construction site, fell and sprained my ankle. Would I be successful in recovering damages from the construction company?
A. There are some situations and circumstances were damages would be recoverable from the construction company; they have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to maintain the sidewalks near their constructions site by keeping them clear of debris. Failure to remove debris and other obstacles that cause you to trip and fall, then it is possible that the company would be liable for your injuries. It is the company’s responsibility to notify pedestrians that injuries are possible if they stray from the sidewalk. A sign would not be sufficient; if a company fails to place proper safety barriers or warning signals near a dangerous obstacle, they would be responsible for anyone that is injured.
Q. I injured my ankle by falling on a broken piece of city sidewalk. Could I file a personal injury lawsuit against the city?
A. Municipal immunity statutes exist in many state that prevent damages from being recovered in a variety of different cases against a city or town. However, if those statutes do no exist, it is possible your case would be successful. Just like citizens, municipalities are responsible for maintaining streets and sidewalks. If you are able to prove the city did not maintain the sidewalk properly, you may have a successful case.
Q. I have a daughter that plays on our park’s basketball team. The park district sent a note home with her requesting us to sign this form that states we would not hold the district liable for any injuries. What does this mean?
A. This is waiver of liability that would contractually release the district of any responsibility of injury that might occur. You would not be signing all of your rights away by complying with their request. If the park district does not give you an option of signing the document and does not allow your child to play, then the court may not find the waiver voluntary and therefore it would be considered invalid. In the states that do acknowledge waivers, it may not completely exclude your right to sue if you sign and agree to the waiver. If careless or intentional actions results in an injury, you would still have a chance of recovering damages.
Medical Malpractice in Alabama
Q. What is considered medical malpractice?
A. Negligence by a professional health care provider (a doctor, nurse, dentist, technician, hospital or hospital worker) who actions do not meet a standard of practice and therefore result in injuries or harm to a patient or multiple patients. Unreasonable care during medical treatment of a patient is the most common malpractice action filed. The healthcare industry sets their own standard for malpractice. In the past, the “locality rule” required the doctor to reasonably obtain and apply the knowledge and then utilize the skill and care that would used by qualified doctors in the localities where they practiced. Presently, the industry is moving away from the “locality rule” and towards a national standard of practice.
Q. How does a deciding party in a trial conclude a healthcare providers actions met the standard of practice?
A. Typically in a medical malpractice case, there are testimonies given by experts who state under oath whether their understanding of the circumstances surrounding the case cause them to believe the healthcare provider’s actions met or fell below the standard medical practice. For example, if a heart surgeon was facing a lawsuit, the deciding party would need to conclude if that the performance of the heart surgeon would have been the same as competent heart surgeon in similar circumstances.
Q. What do the consent forms prior to a doctor performing a surgical procedure mean?
A. Consent forms prior to surgical procedures are common in hospitals. The forms ask the patient to consent the specific procedure they are having done as well as any other procedures that may be required in addition to that. There should be a detailed description given by the doctor explaining the procedure, the risks involved, and the consequences should you elect not to have the procedure done prior to you signing the consent form. If the healthcare provider fails to completely educated the details of the procedure and the risk and benefits associated with the procedure, the consent form would be considered invalid. There are exceptions that the law considers acceptable when lack of information could be considered acceptable; in emergencies and if explaining the procedure to the patient could potentially be harmful. In the event where a consent form should have been executed and the healthcare provider failed to collect it from you, you would still need to prove, if sufficiently informed and educated, a reasonable person would not agree to the procedure.
Strict Liability in Alabama
Q. Is the only basis for liability proof of negligence, or are there others?
A. Yes, there are other actions or activities that cause harm where courts will consider liable, even if negligence or malicious intent are not evident. Examples of this strict liability include: storage of toxic substances, maintaining dangerous animals or companies that participate in blasting. Those that take part in these types of activities carry a threat of unwelcome risk to those members of the surrounding community, which is why the courts impose strict liability. The parties that decide to participate in these activities do so at their own risk and accept any liability should something harmful happen. The parties that directly participate in the activities are in the liable position.
Product Liability in Alabama
Q. I recently purchased a new power mower that caused injuries to me after it backfired. Would I have a successful case?
A. This is what would be considered a typical product liability case. It is possible to prove the lawn mower was a defective product distributed by the manufacturer. Many courts will find the defective product that caused harm to the consumers as a result of the defect makes the company strictly liable for those injuries. Another route to take would be to seek damages from the producer or assembler as they failed to provide a warning or proper directions for use.
Q. I recently sought medical attention for an allergic reaction to some cosmetics I used. Would I be able to file a successful lawsuit against the manufacturer?
A. A successful lawsuit is possible in your situation. If there was a warning of a possible allergic reaction, then there may be a possibility the courts would not find the manufacture liable since they provided an adequate warning. However, if you could provide proof a particular ingredient caused the same adverse reaction to several people as well as prove the manufacture was aware or, under reasonable circumstances, should have been aware of the possibility of your reaction. You would also need to prove that you applied the product as directed, because courts will recognize misuse as a solid defense in strict liability. If the courts decide it is not strict liability, you could possibly pursue negligence.
Q. I recently purchased a used car that had a brake defect which caused injury to me. Would I be able to file a personal injury claim against the dealer?
A. There is much debate in the courts of the possibility of strict liability of those involved with the used goods industry. There are successes in recovering damages caused by a dealer not completely inspecting these used goods for defects, but the majority of courts will not agree to holding those dealers liable.
Intentional Wrongs in Alabama
Q. Is there a difference between lawsuits based on negligence or strict liability and those based on liability for an intentional tort?
A. There is no real difference between the two types of lawsuits. The types of damages could be the same, but the fundamentals that needs to be proven will be different. In the case where someone is found liable for an intentional tort, they have gone beyond simply a reckless act; the conclusion of the courts is the person intended knowing the ramifications of their actions.
If you do not intend to harm a person, you could still be responsible for an intentional tort. There is an example of a person being found liable for an intentional tort where the defendant continued to attend to the plaintiff’s broken arm, even though the plaintiff asked him to stop. Normally, with a negligence case, you would need to show actual damages; this is not the same with an intentional tort.
Q. I was involved in an altercation with a man after his car accidentally bumped mine at a traffic light, which resulted in a black eye. Out of revenge, I would love to recover damages from him. Do I have a case?
A. Normally you could recover damages in a civil battery case against someone who hits you. But a court might hold that two people who get into a fistfight in effect agree to being hit by one another. If so, a battery case probably would fail. A lot would depend on the facts of the case. Who started the fight? Were you simply trying to defend yourself from his aggression? Were there witnesses? What would their testimony be?
In a normal civil battery case, you would be successful in filing a lawsuit against someone that hit you. However, if two people participate in a fist fight, they are agreeing to striking one another. Of course, the success of the case would depend on the circumstances. Points that need to be considered are: who started the fight, were you defending yourself, where there any witnesses and would they be supportive of your claim of self-defense?