Your West Palm Beach Personal Injury Case: The Basics

Your wife took your son to the Palm Beach Zoo and slipped on poorly lit stairs, injuring her shoulder and wrist. Your mother's car was rear-ended after her book club in the Clematis District, leaving her with severe neck and back pain. Your daughter was on her way to a pool party at Lake Lytal Park, but tripped on uneven pavement, struck her head, and was hospitalized. Personal injuries happen all the time in West Palm Beach. But do you know what to do when one happens to you or a loved one? Here is some basic information for help in navigating your personal injury case in the Orchid City.

For a comprehensive overview of personal injury law in general, you may wish to check out FindLaw's section on Accidents and Injuries. This article provides additional and more specific information about injury cases in West Palm Beach.

First Steps

The most important thing to do after an injury is to make sure that all emergency medical needs are attended to. Call 911 if necessary and focus first on getting treated.

Once you have taken care of those concerns, however, you may wish to start collecting available evidence regarding the incident. This can include taking photographs, jotting down notes, and getting the contact information of any witnesses.

Should You Get An Attorney?

Depending on the extent of your injuries, you might want to consider hiring an attorney. Most personal injury lawyers will provide a free initial consultation to hear the circumstances of your case. If the two of you decide to work together, it will likely be on a "contingency fee basis," which essentially means that the attorney will initially work for free and any fees he receives will be paid out of your recovery (settlement or judgment in your favor). For more information about why you might need an attorney and what materials and information to provide if you decide to retain one, go to FindLaw's section on Using a Personal Injury Lawyer.

Statutes of Limitation

Although you don't want to rush into anything, you do want to make sure to stay aware of all relevant deadlines. The statute of limitations (or time within which you need to file a lawsuit) for a negligence action in West Palm Beach and the rest of the state is generally 4 years from the date of the accident.

Note, however, that there are shorter time-frames for other causes of action. For example, if you are claiming medical malpractice (essentially that a healthcare professional acted negligently resulting in harm to a patient) or wrongful death (a death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of another) you have only 2 years. So keep an eye on the calendar and act promptly.

Negligence

You know now that you have 4 years to bring a negligence action, but what exactly is negligence? To be negligent is essentially to act carelessly and for that carelessness to result in harm to another person. When you are negligent you can be held responsible for the damages that were caused by your carelessness. Most personal injury cases are based on the allegation that one party was negligent.

In many cases, negligence is a bit tricky because both parties acted carelessly. What happens then? In West Palm Beach and the rest of Florida under the theory of comparative negligence, even if you were partially at fault, you are not barred from recovering from the other party, although your recovery will be reduced in proportion to your fault. So, for example, if you had damages of $10,000 and were 40% at fault, you would still be able to recover $6000 or 60% from the other party.

Damages

Generally, a plaintiff (the person bring suit) in a personal injury case seeks monetary compensation ("damages") for his losses. This can include things like medical expenses, lost wages and other out of pocket costs, as well as less tangible things like pain and suffering and mental anguish.

If the injured person is married, the husband or wife sometimes claims damages for "loss of consortium." These damages are designed to compensate the non-injured spouse for the loss of companionship as a result of the injury.

In some cases, in an effort to punish the party at fault, punitive damages can be awarded. In Florida these can only be awarded in cases where there is clear and convincing evidence of intentional misconduct or gross negligence.

Personal injury cases come in many forms and may vary widely in complexity. Consulting with a personal injury attorney may be a great idea, and many offer free initial consultations.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.