I was injured in California, what should I do?
If you are injured in California, whether a car accident, slip and fall, or by a defective product, you should consult an attorney depending on the severity of the injury. If your injury is relatively small you may be able to bring forth the claim independently. However depending on the level of your injury, an attorney may be beneficial in receiving as much compensation that would adequately reimburse the pain and suffering your injury has caused you.
It is important throughout the process to keep all medical bills and records. This ensures accuracy and fair compensation if a settlement agreement is reached or when an amount is awarded. Pictures or any relevant evidence may also be helpful in order to give representation of what the circumstances were and assess when assigning fault and assessing liability. (See also “How do I choose an injury attorney in California?”)
Under California law, who is responsible when a person is injured?
The law of personal injury concerns the determination of who may be responsible for your injuries and how much they should be required to pay for your damages. Personal injury is a form of tort law, the legal term that includes many types of injuries to people and their property. Every tort claim must include four basic elements including duty, breach of duty, damages, and proximate cause. The defendant must have a legal duty toward the plaintiff. The defendant must have violated that legal duty. The plaintiff must have suffered some harm for which the law allows an award of monetary damages. The defendant's breach of a legal duty must be related to the plaintiff's injury closely enough to be considered a proximate cause of the injury.
There are a number of principles that apply to the law of torts and personal injury. These principles recognize degrees of fault on the part of the person who causes the injury. In general, the degrees of fault can be described as negligence, strict liability, and intentional fault.
The term negligence is essential to tort law. Everyone is expected to take ordinary reasonable care to ensure that their action or the actions of others under their control, do not cause anyone harm. If they fall below that standard of care, and someone is injured or their property damaged, then they become negligent. Negligence does not mean that the person deliberately intended to cause harm; it only means that they did not take reasonable care or they did not act when any reasonable person would have. The degree of care varies with the circumstances of each case. Likewise, a plaintiff has a duty to exercise reasonable care on his own behalf, and his ability to recover may be adjusted according to his actions as well.
Strict liability means that one does not have to prove the defendant was negligent in order to recover damages. In the case of product liability, the law now holds that you do not have to prove the manufacturer was negligent if someone is injured while using a product. The only proof required is that the product was defective when it left the hands of the particular seller and that was the proximate cause of the injuries. A lawsuit can be brought against anyone participating in the chain of manufacture for that product, from the manufacturer, to the designer to the retail store.
An intentional tort refers to a personal injury caused by a person who has the intent to cause harm. It may also refer to injury caused by willful or reckless conduct. Intentional torts include assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, libel and slander, etc.
How will my personal injury claim be processed in California?
A large majority of personal injury claims settle before reaching the litigation process. If the person who caused your injury has insurance, an insurance adjuster will gather the pertinent records such as medical records, medical bills, and wage loss verification in order to verify your damages. If you agree to accept a settlement, you will be required to sign an agreement stating you absolve the other party of all further liability in this case, and the claim process is over. If you do not receive an acceptable offer, you can proceed with filing a lawsuit. After a lawsuit has been filed, both parties will conduct discovery. Pretrial discovery usually takes about a full year during which time both parties investigate all aspects of the claim. This may include taking oral depositions, obtaining pertinent records, propounding interrogatories, and hiring expert witnesses to obtain more evidence about the claim. During this period of discovery and as the trial date approaches, the parties will exchange settlement offers/demands.
Be careful when dealing with the other party's insurance company because they may try to rush you into a settlement before you can adequately evaluate the extent of your damages. An experienced attorney may be helpful in assessing an appropriate value for your claim, and assist in the settlement process. If you are in an automobile accident with an uninsured driver who is at fault, the uninsured motorist provisions of your own policy will apply. You should be sure not to sign any documents or make any formal statements without prior review by an attorney. It is important to attend all scheduled doctor appointments in order to document your injuries. Accurate records should be kept of time you missed from work, medical bills, and property damage repairs. You can document your damages with photographs of your injuries or photos of property damage.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.
Additional Personal Injury Articles
- Personal Injury in California: Basic Concepts
- How do I file a personal injury lawsuit in California?