One would think that Hartford, the so-called "Insurance Capital of the World," would be almost immune from personal injury cases. Obviously, that belief would be false. Just as with everywhere else, people here occasionally serve their coffee too hot, let their dogs run loose, and drive as if playing a video game -- and all of these practices may lead to someone getting hurt. When the unfortunate happens, don't be caught unprepared. FindLaw offers this guide to the basics of a personal injury case. Whether you were burned by the hot coffee, or you thought it was a good idea to bring it on the bus, review this guide so you know what to expect.
Connecticut imposes time limits on people wishing to file law suits. For personal injury suits, the time limit, or statute of limitations, is three years from the act that caused the injury. Be aware, though, that there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if the injury is due to a defective consumer product, the court measures the three years from the date of the injury. To illustrate, if an auto mechanic sells faulty tires in November, but the tires do not cause an injury until the road temperature heats up in July, the court will typically measure the three years beginning with the July date, and not the November sale date. Other exceptions to the three-year deadline exist, so it may be a good idea to contact an attorney. You may have more (or less) time than you initially think to file a claim.
Theory of Recovery
Plaintiffs may pursue personal injury claims on one or more possible theories. Among them, negligence is a very common theory. A plaintiff generally may recover under a negligence theory if: (1) a defendant failed to be adequately careful; and (2) that failure caused the plaintiff to suffer a harm. Other common theories include product liability and intentional tort liability. It's important to relay all of the details of your case to an attorney so that he/she may use all of the appropriate theories and get the best result for you. If you are defending yourself in a lawsuit, pay attention to the theory because the rules for how a case proceeds may differ based on the theory.
A Plaintiff's Potential Recovery
In a typical, negligence-based personal injury case, a plaintiff may recover economic damages and non-economic damages. The economic damages are amounts associated with an actual amount of money that a plaintiff lost. This amount will often include the costs of:
Non-economic damages are less easily calculated and are linked to a plaintiff's physical and emotional suffering. Because there are no invoices and bills to help add up the cost of "suffering," a jury or judge will determine what a plaintiff's suffering is worth.
It is important to remember that whatever amount a jury calculates for economic and non-economic damages, that amount may still be reduced if a the jury or judge finds that a plaintiff was negligent as well. The fact-finder may will assign percentages of blame to each party, and that is the percentage of damages that a party must pay. If a plaintiff is found to have more than half of the blame, he/she cannot recover anything.
Holding Parties Responsible
Generally, parties are only responsible for damages related to their percentages of blame, but there are a few exceptions to this rule. In some cases, more than one defendant may be at fault. If one or more defendant is unable to pay his/her share of the damages, the plaintiff may seek payment from the other defendants for those amounts, but special rules may apply. In such circumstances, it may be wise to talk to an attorney for more details.
Find the Proper Court
Finding the proper court in Hartford is easy. Unlike many other states in the region, there is only one court system in the state with jurisdiction over personal injury claims. If you've had to go to court in other states, you may be aware that the court's rules may differ depending on how much damages a party is seeking. Connecticut does allow for small claims proceedings, but all cases still proceed in the Superior Court. See FindLaw's page for Hartford Courthouses.
Find an Attorney
As you've read by now, some of the laws involved in a personal injury claim can be very complex. It's usually best to hire a lawyer. Many Hartford-area personal injury attorneys work on a contingent fee basis, which means that they do not take a payment unless and until you receive a judgment or a settlement. At that point, the attorney typically takes a percentage of the total. State law limits the amount that an attorney may take. You may still waive (give up) these limits, but only if your attorney has explained them to you, as well as your other rights in this situation, and you both put the waiver in writing.
Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Are Handled Differently
The above rules and procedure do not apply in cases of injuries sustained at work. For starters, workers compensation pays employees who become injured or ill, regardless of who was at fault. Secondly, it covers all required medical treatment, a portion of lost wages, costs associated with training for a new career, and possibly even additional amounts to compensate a worker for severe injuries. Workers, however, have only one year to file a claim for an injury (although three years for an illness), instead of the three years for ordinary personal injury actions. Notify your employer promptly after an injury and seek medical attention quickly. A delay on your part can make your claim more difficult, even if you are within the allowed time to file. For more information, visit the Workers' Compensation Commission's website.
Contact a qualified attorney.