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Your Oakland Personal Injury Case: The Basics

Last updated: December 17, 2013

The world is a dangerous place. Even the most cautious individual could slip on a puddle in a grocery store, or get T-Boned along 12 Mile Rd., and sustain serious injuries. Now you're out of work, racked up thousands in medical bills and that splitting headache just won't go away. Sometimes the only way to recover the costs associated with an injury is a personal injury lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit is scary, and California courts do little to light a clear path, so FindLaw has created this guide to prepare you for what to expect from your Oakland personal injury lawsuit.

When can I sue him?

You may initiate a lawsuit up to two years after a typical injury-causing accident. This time limitation is called the statute of limitations, and it begins running as soon as the accident. If your personal injury case is based on medical malpractice, you have three years from the day of the injury or one year from the day you discover, or should have discovered, the injury. If the limitations period for you lawsuit runs out, the judge will dismiss your complaint regardless of the strength of your claim.

What can I sue him for?

The most common cause of action after a serious injury is negligence. Negligence is popular because it is fairly easy to prove: the law of negligence governs accidental conduct, so you don't have to prove that the defendant intended any harm. To succeed in a negligence lawsuit you must show that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable caution under the circumstances, and this failure caused your injuries.

Often, multiple defendants, or even the plaintiff himself, contributed to the same injury. This situation calls for the "comparative negligence" rule for distributing damages. Under California's comparative negligence law, fault is assigned to each negligent party and damages are distributed according to fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an injury which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. Significantly, California is one of 13 states that uses a "pure" comparative negligence standard, which means that even if the injury was 99% your fault you can still recover 1%.

While negligence covers accidental injuries, the law of intentional torts, such as assault or battery, governs intentionally caused injuries.

If the injuries were severe enough to result in someone's death, that individual's surviving family members could sue under wrongful death theory. This is similar to a negligence lawsuit but differs in that is seeks to recover the unfair costs the survivors must bear, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship and funeral expenses.

A medical malpractice lawsuit addresses injuries caused by improper treatment by healthcare professionals. For example a doctor could misdiagnose an injury, fail to provide appropriate treatment or unreasonably delay treatment.

Alternatively, instead of suing the individual who caused the you could sue the maker of the injury-causing product under products liability law. These lawsuits point out a design or manufacturing defect with the product that led to the injury. These cases can be highly technical and you will probably need to hire an expert witness.

Knowing which legal theories give you the best chance to recover, so you may wish to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. Most P.I. lawyers will give you a free initial consultation, and usually work on a contingency basis; they only get paid once you recover.

How much will I get?

Damages come in two varieties: economic and non-economic. Economic injuries are injuries that easily compute into a monetary value, such as:

  • Medical expenses;
  • Future income;
  • Loss of property;
  • Costs of repair or replacement; and
  • Loss of employment opportunities. 

Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are more difficult to quantify. The most common non-economic damage asked for in personal injury lawsuits are "pain and suffering" damages. Pain and suffering damages compensate you for the mental and physical distress you suffer as a result of the injury. Under , pain and suffering damages cannot exceed $250,000 in a medical malpractice lawsuit, though there's no damages limitation for pain and suffering in more typical personal injury cases.

How do I initiate the lawsuit?

The first step in a lawsuit is to draft a complaint and file it at your local courthouse. A complaint is a brief description of the incident and a request for compensation. Don't try to get too technical, just follow a sample if you need some guidance. Also, an experienced attorney may be able of valuable assistance with regards to the filing of a lawsuit, not to mention the many steps that usually follow.

At any rate, you can file your lawsuit at most court locations, so check to see which Oakland courthouse is nearest you. Most major civil lawsuits wind up with the Alameda County Civil Division, which is located in the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse. However, if you suit is worth $10,000 or less you may instead opt for the informal procedure of small claims court.

What if I'm injured at work?

California law requires almost all employers to carry worker's compensation insurance. It acts as an alternative to a lawsuit; instead of suing someone, you make a claim on your employer's insurance policy. The first step toward a successful worker's compensation claim is to report the injury to your employer as quickly as possible. If you do not report the injury within 30 days of sustaining it, you could forfeit any benefits.

Your employer must provide you with a complaint form within one working day. Then you submit a complaint form to your employer, who will in turn submit your claim to a claims administrator with the California Division of Worker's Compensation. Worker's Compensation law is technical, so browse the Guidebook for Injured Workers to make sure you don't miss anything.

Personal injury is a complicated field of law to wade into, so arm yourself with knowledge! Our section on Injury Law Basics is a great place to start.