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Your Los Angeles Personal Injury Case: The Basics

Your mom is a huge Garrison Keillor fan, so when the tickets went on sale for a taping of "A Prairie Home Companion" at the Greek Theatre, you bought two right away for her birthday. You splurged on one of the Superstar picnic baskets and as you are carrying it over to the table, you trip on a cable that's not taped down and go down hard. You've fallen and you can't get up. You need an ambulance and there is no way you are making it to work tomorrow. Who is going to pay for the ER bill? What if you need more treatment? Next thing you know someone says you may have a personal injury case. What does that even mean? Below are some tips to help you with a personal injury case in Los Angeles.

What Is a Personal Injury Case Anyway?

A personal injury case is when you claim that your "person" (body, mind, or emotional state) was hurt by the carelessness or irresponsibility of someone else. It's different from a criminal matter where the government prosecutes the person who hurt you. A personal injury case is a civil matter with a "plaintiff" (the person claiming to be injured) and one or more "defendants" (the person, company or organization you claim is responsible). In Los Angeles, personal injury cases are generally filed in the civil division of the Superior Court, but if you claim $10,000 or less in damages, your case should be filed in the small claims division.

What If I Didn't Slip and Fall But Got Hurt A Different Way?

Although slip and falls form the basis for many personal injury cases, there are several other types of injuries that may give rise to a personal injury claim. For example, if you eat at a restaurant and get Salmonella poisoning, you might have a claim for personal injury due to dangerous foods. If you are given the wrong medication while in the hospital, you may have a claim for medical malpractice. In Los Angeles, and the rest of California, there is a "cap" (maximum limit) on the amount of non-economic damages like pain and suffering you can recover in a medical malpractice action. As of 2013, it is $250,000.

Virtually any type of injury caused by someone else could be the basis of a personal injury claim.

How Am I Compensated in A Personal Injury Case?

Generally, a plaintiff in a personal injury case seeks monetary compensation ("damages") for both tangible economic and intangible non-economic losses.

Economic recovery can include:

  • Past medical expenses
  • Future medical expenses
  • Past lost wages
  • Future lost wages
  • Other out-of-pocket costs

Non-economic recovery can include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Disfigurement
  • Permanent disability
  • Mental anguish

If the injured person has a spouse, the spouse sometimes claims damages for "loss of consortium." This is meant to compensate for the loss of companionship as a result of the injury. Depending on the actions of the defendant, sometimes punitive damages are sought as well. Punitive damages, which are only available in limited situations, are extra money awarded to the plaintiff to make an example of the defendant and punish him for his actions. In Los Angeles, punitive damages are available only when it is proven that the defendant was guilty of "oppression, fraud or malice."

How Do I Prove My Case?

When you are the plaintiff in a personal injury case, you are usually trying to establish that the defendant acted negligently. Someone who is negligent has failed to take reasonable care to avoid the accident. In some cases, like when you are injured by a defective or dangerous product, you might rely on the theory of strict liability. In strict liability cases, you don't have to prove how the manufacturer or seller was negligent, but only that the product had an unreasonably dangerous defect that caused your injury.

How Long Do I Have?

Keep in mind that you only have so long to file a personal injury lawsuit. This is called the statute of limitations. In Los Angeles, the basic Statute of Limitations for personal injuries is 2 years from the date of injury or 1 year after the injury was discovered. If you are suing a government agency like the City of Los Angeles, the time frame is much shorter -- you may only have 6 months to file your initial claim. In a medical malpractice claim, you must file suit within 3 years of the date of injury or 1 year from the date you knew or should have known about the injury, whichever is shorter.

Should I Talk To A Lawyer?

You may wish to talk to a lawyer to discuss your accident. Many will offer a free initial consultation to evaluate your case. If your case is accepted, it will usually be on a "contingency basis" which means that you will not pay your attorney unless and until you receive an award or settlement. When meeting with a lawyer, be sure to bring all of the documents and information that he or she may need to evaluate your case.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified attorney.
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