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Your Gary Personal Injury Case: The Basics

Last updated: November 25, 2013

You're just minding your own business, driving through your neighborhood, about to cross W. 23rd, when a car doesn't seem to notice you. You'd later find out that the other driver was too busy trying to find and photograph MJ's childhood home for some kind of keepsake. Meanwhile, you're the one left with souvenirs: a pair of crutches and a neck brace.

Life can be tough as the steel we produce in Gary, and the last thing you need is an injury slowing you down. FindLaw offers this basic guide to personal injury law in Gary and the State of Indiana. Take this as a starting point for viewing the legal landscape following a car accident and getting compensation for your troubles.

Finding a Lawyer

In some cases, finding a lawyer is the first step towards recovery. Injured parties, known as plaintiffs, may hire an attorney who specializes in personal injury cases, particularly on the plaintiff's side. Choosing a plaintiff's attorney comes with a distinct advantage: many of them will take a case with a free or low-cost consultation and possibly under a contingent fee agreement. This means that you won't have to pay much, if anything, to speak to someone, and the final bill will depend on whether you receive payment from the responsible party. Put another way, you won't pay if you lose if you have a contingent fee agreement.

Theories of Recovery

A personal injury case proceeds on one or more possible theories, or rationales, for the court to award money to a plaintiff. In an intentional tort case, a plaintiff claims that a defendant has intentionally done some bad act. In a negligence case, a plaintiff claims that the defendant was not careful enough in his/her activities, and that lack of care caused the plaintiff to suffer some harm. Establishing the appropriate theory can be difficult and vitally important to the success of your case. It may be a good idea to at least discuss potential theories with an attorney before proceeding with a lawsuit.

Other theories of recovery after an injury include: workers' compensation, medical malpractice, strict liability, and products liability. Ask about these theories when you consult with an attorney.

Damages

The law allows a plaintiff to recover money when someone else has harmed him. In Gary and the rest of Indiana, the amount recovered is subject to some limitation. In general, a plaintiff may only recover amounts to compensate him/her for the harm suffered. If you're injured, you can recover money for medical treatment, lost wages, your pain and anguish, and decreased earning potential. Indiana law refers to these amounts as compensatory damages.

The amount you recover will be reduced, however, if you were also negligent. A jury will first assign a percentage of blame to each person involved in the injury-causing incident. If you are more than half at fault for the incident, then you can't recover anything. If you are 50% or less at fault, then the jury will determine the total damages amount and reduce the award by the amount of your fault, if any. See Indiana Code 34-51-2-7.

Only in rare cases will you be entitled to punitive damages -- amounts awarded not to compensate you for your loss, but to punish the defendant's bad conduct and make an example out of them. If the defendant acted with reckless disregard for your safety, then you may be entitled to punitive damages. Hire an attorney because it is more difficult to prove "reckless disregard" than it is to prove the elements of an ordinary personal injury case. Under the law, punitive damages are limited to the greater of either: (1) three times the compensatory damages; or (2) $50,000.

Filing a Claim

Gary sits in Lake County, and the Lake County Circuit Court has the general power to hear civil cases. Gary's Superior Court, on the other hand, only hears personal injury cases that fit within the rules of Small Claims court (PDF). To be eligible for Small Claims Court, you must be seeking no more than $7,500. It may be a good idea to talk to an attorney to get an idea of your claim's potential worth, and then choose the appropriate court. Lake County Local Court Rules require you to file all papers with the Clerk's office at the courthouse you choose. For more information, see FindLaw's page dedicated to courthouses in Gary.

Statute of Limitations

Indiana law limits the time you have to file a claim, and that law is called the statute of limitations. In ordinary personal injury cases, you have two years to sue. Complex cases may take a long time to prepare. Do not wait until the two years is nearly up to take action!