Courts across the U.S. are reporting increases from 2015 to 2016 in civil suits, with a 5% rise nationwide and 6.8% rise in Colorado. Many filers are pursuing financial compensation after incurring injuries from vehicle accidents, defective products, and more. As with any important decision, it is best to carefully consider whether to pursue a personal injury lawsuit. In injury cases, the first course of action is not typically a lawsuit. In vehicle accident cases the party that would pay a settlement or award is typically an insurance company. Accidents that result in minor injuries or property damage can usually be resolved with an offer of sufficient compensation.
When you retain a personal injury lawyer, you are essentially bringing in an experienced advocate to protect your best interests. Here, we examine some factors to consider when contemplating a lawsuit.
Did You Incur a Personal Injury?
A personal injury may be harm that is physical or psychological in nature. This encompasses harm that has impacted your body, state-of-mind, or emotional well-being. Perhaps you were walking through a retail store and slipped on a liquid that accumulated on the floor and suffered a concussion? Maybe you were involved in an auto accident and have since been anxious, depressed, and unable to sleep?
Was the Injury Caused By Negligence?
The legal principal of negligence describes when the actions (or inactions) of an individual or entity cause injury to someone. Negligence can be described as a failure to exercise the level of care that a reasonable individual would under similar circumstances. There are several components required to establish negligence:
- Existence of a duty: Based on the circumstances, the defendant had a duty to act in a reasonable manner.
- A breach of the duty: The defendant breached (failed) in maintaining this duty.
- A causal relationship: The actions of the defendant led to the plaintiff's injury.
- Damages incurred: As a result of this harm, the plaintiff may pursue monetary recovery.
Have you sustained harm that is recoverable through financial damages? The most common examples in cases of automobile accidents are those that pertain to medical care. These expenses may include emergency response services, hospital care, surgical procedures, medication, rehabilitation, and more. Others include psychological or emotional harm, like pain, suffering, and mental anguish. Often an injured victim will be unable to work and lose wages and potential future earnings. If you face a longer-term disability, you may require special mobility equipment or home modifications to execute day-to-day tasks.
One consideration when filing a lawsuit is that the matter may potentially take many months or years to reach a conclusion. The U.S. legal system relies on parties to negotiate and reach resolutions prior to proceeding to trial. Here in Colorado, the district court level alone received over 215,000 filings in 2017, 37% of which were civil—roughly 80,000. If each of these actions resulted in a trial, courts would be completely unsustainable. Courts increasingly implement strategies to seek negotiated resolutions in civil matters -- for example, through mediation or arbitration in efforts to reach a settlement.
Ability to Pay (Collecting Damages)
Prior to filing a lawsuit, your attorney will likely consider whether it makes sense to proceed with a claim based on the likelihood of actually collecting an award. Does the defendant have income or assets with which to pay a claim? It would not be wise to invest time and resources pursuing a personal injury claim from a defendant that does not have or is unlikely to have an ability to pay.
Importance of Experienced Counsel
When in a position to pursue significant damages, an experienced injury lawyer benefits you. This is particularly true if you have experienced a life-altering injury where merely calculating a fair estimate of damages could be challenging. Remember that in cases where an insurer could potentially be liable for sizable damages, they will have representation that is seeking to protect their best interests. These matters can be complex and may require compiling evidence, expert witness testimony, and other things that are best handled by a seasoned professional.