Your San Diego Personal Injury Case: The Basics
Your personal injury could happen anywhere. You might have gotten food poisoning at the new restaurant in Hillcrest. Maybe the safety harness malfunctioned while you were navigating the jungle ropes at Safari Park. You may have gotten a misdiagnosis at the UCSD Medical Center. Whatever the scenario, here is a guide to help you with the basics of your personal injury case in San Diego. You may also want to check out FindLaw's section on Accidents and Injuries for additional information.
Take Care of Yourself
The first thing to do after any personal injury is to get appropriate medical treatment. Call 911 if you need to and make sure any emergency needs are tended to.
Once you are in stable condition, it's a good idea to collect information about the accident or injury. This can include writing down exactly what happened, preserving any evidence, taking pictures, and gathering the contact information of any witnesses. Here is a more comprehensive list of first steps to take in a personal injury claim.
You may be wondering whether to file a lawsuit. It is certainly a good idea to thoughtfully evaluate the pros and cons of doing so, but bear in mind that you can't wait forever. The Statutes of Limitations are deadlines by which you must file a lawsuit, or forever let it go. The time frames vary by state and by type of claim. In California, for most personal injury claims, you have 2 years.
In San Diego, most personal injury cases are filed with the Superior Court. Where you file (Central Division vs. East, South or North Regional Centers) is based upon the zip code of where the incident occurred or where the defendant lives or does business. You may file in Small Claims Court if you are suing for $10,000 or less (or, in the case of a car accident with an insured defendant, $7,500 or less).
Who Is Responsible?
Most personal injury claims are based on the theory that the defendant acted negligently. In broad terms, negligence means that someone's careless actions caused or contributed to the accident. In many cases, however, both the plaintiff and the defendant are partially at fault. What happens then?
In a few states, it is still the law that a plaintiff who is even 1% at fault is completely barred from recovering any damages (monetary compensation). This is known as pure contributory negligence. San Diego, and the rest of California, however, follows the comparative negligence system. Under the California system, a plaintiff who is even 99% at fault is still entitled to recover the 1% of damages that were not due to her fault.
What Can You Recover?
So we know that you can recover even if you are partially at fault. But what exactly can you recover as a result of your injury?
Recovery in a personal injury suit is usually described in terms of money "damages." Damages are an attempt to compensate you for your injury and make you "whole" again. You can't go back and un-break your arm, but damages are supposed to reimburse you for the actual money you spent and the trouble you were caused. Generally, a plaintiff in a personal injury suit seeks both "economic" and "noneconomic" damages.
Economic damages can be assigned a specific dollar value, and include things like medical expenses, lost wages, and replacement or repair of property. Here is a worksheet you can use to keep track of your out-of-pocket expenses after an injury.
Non-economic damages are less tangible and include things like pain and suffering. There are some limits on these types of damages -- specifically, in San Diego, and all of California, there is a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits.
Dealing With Insurance Companies
Insurance companies (yours, the other party's, or both) are often involved in personal injury claims. For a more extensive discussion on insurance law and an overview of what to expect when interacting with insurers, check out FindLaw's Injury Claims and Insurance section. You may also wish to visit the California Department of Insurance website for additional information about specific insurance companies and/or to file a complaint.
What If The Injury Happened At Work?
Generally speaking, if your injury happened while you were working, your claim will be handled through workers' compensation. Information about filing a claim in San Diego (and the rest of California) can be found at the Division of Workers' Compensation website.
If you are lucky, you can get through life without a personal injury lawsuit. If not, FindLaw has the resources to help you deal with your legal issues, heal, and move on.