If you've been injured in a car crash, slip-and-fall, or other preventable accident, you can use the court system to receive compensation for your pain and suffering, medical bills, and property damage by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Personal injury lawsuits are common and often fairly straightforward – as long as you can document your injury and costs related to it, and show that the other party is responsible, you'll probably be able to win your case or agree on a reasonable settlement. However, there are a few mistakes you can make that can seriously jeopardize your eventual award, or even cost you the case entirely. Take a look at some of the costly personal injury mistakes you'll want to avoid at all costs.
Waiting Too Long To File
If you watch legal procedural shows, you're probably familiar with the concept of the statute of limitations – if the police wait too long to file charges, the statute of limitations runs out, and the criminal gets away with it. The same thing can happen in civil cases, like personal injury lawsuits. You can't wait too long before filing your case, or the statute of limitations will run out and you'll lose your standing to sue.
Different states have different statutes of limitations for personal injury cases. You could have as little as one year to file in states like Kentucky or Louisiana, or as many as six years in states like Maine and North Dakota. Resist the urge to delay filing until you're done with physical therapy or until you're back at work full time – that's one way that time gets away from you, and you could end up losing your right to sue.
Most of the time, the statute of limitations clock starts from the time you discover your injury. In most cases, like car accidents, you discover your injury at the time that it occurs. However, in some cases, you may not know right away. For example, a surgical mistake might be discovered long after the actual surgery, so the clock would start when the mistake was discovered, not when the surgery occurred. However, the courts apply a "reasonable person" standard to this rule – if you don't discover the injury until long after a reasonable person would have (if you refused to go to a doctor despite feeling pain, for example) you could still run out of time because the court could decide that a reasonable person would have discovered the injury sooner. This is why it's always important to seek medical attention as soon as you suspect a problem.
Giving a Statement to the Insurance Company
The chances are good that the insurance company will try to settle your claim early on – perhaps even before you've talked to a lawyer or considered a lawsuit. It's their job to settle claims for as little as possible, so if they can avoid going to court, they will. However, it may not be good for you to settle as quickly as possible, since you could end up settling for less than you deserve. If you settle before your medical treatment is completed, it's possible that it could wind up costing you far more than you expected, and you wouldn't be able to get more money from the insurance company.
This is why you should avoid signing a statement or agreement or giving a recorded statement to the insurance company. They can use that to prevent you from getting a larger settlement. If you initially underestimate the extent of your injuries, the insurance company could use a previously recorded statement to argue that your injuries are less serious than you claim.
Not Choosing a Trial Lawyer
If you know anything about personal injury cases, you probably know that most of them don't end in a courtroom. In fact, 95 to 96 percent of personal injury cases end up settling out of court, with only four to five percent going to trial. So why would you need a trial lawyer?
There are two reasons. For one thing, your best chance of getting the best settlement you can get is to show that you're willing to go to trial if necessary, and you can't do that if a quick background check of your lawyer reveals that they never spend any time in a courtroom. Also, in the small percentage of cases that do go to trial, the plaintiff loses most of them. On the off chance your personal injury case does end up in court, you don't want to be part of that statistic. You need an attorney who knows how to win in a trial setting.
If you're recovering from an injury, seek out an experienced trial lawyer who specializes in personal injury law before you talk to the insurance company and before time gets away from you. That's your best chance of getting a settlement or judgment that will properly reimburse you for your losses.