Your Baton Rouge Personal Injury Case: The Basics

You were late for work, plus you're a good driver, so weaving through I-12 traffic came only too naturally. Unfortunately, the jerk in the bright orange Hummer felt he owned the road and swerved right into your tiny Japanese car. And that's the last thing you remember before waking up in a Baton Rouge General cot surrounded by misty-eyed family. Someone's going to pay for what's been done to you, right? Here's a general guide to how personal injury cases typically work in Baton Rouge.

Types of Lawsuits

Selecting the appropriate cause of action is the first step toward filing a personal injury lawsuit. The most common civil action following an injury asserts negligence, which governs accidentally inflicted injuries. To succeed in a negligence lawsuit, one must prove that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances that led to the injury. If the defendant purposefully causes an injury, the proper lawsuit is the intentional tort battery.

If injuries were caused by a negligent health care professional, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be appropriate. This is like a negligence lawsuit, but doctors are held to a much higher standard of care.

If injured by a defective product, you could sue the manufacturer of the injury-causing product in a products liability lawsuit. This type of suit alleges that the product has a design or manufacturing defect that caused the product to malfunction in an unexpected way.

When a family member dies as the result of injuries suffered from any of the above claims, his claim lives on in the form of a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death lawsuits seek compensation for unfair costs borne by the family of the deceased, such as lost wages, lost companionship, medical bills and funeral expenses.

How to File a Lawsuit

To file a lawsuit, one must draft a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis for the lawsuit. A complaint should be plainly worded, but specific enough to show why the plaintiff should win the case. Injured parties may want to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney about this, first. Personal injury attorneys almost universally work on a contingency basis, which means you don't pay them anything until you've won.

A lawsuit can be filed in either City Court or District Court, depending on the amount of damages suffered. If one seeks $35,000 or less, the lawsuit can be brought in the Baton Rouge City Court, located at 233 St Louis St. If a claim is worth more than $35,000, it should be filed in the 19th Judicial District Courthouse, located at 300 North Blvd. For more informal procedures on claims worth $5,000 or less, the small claims division of the City Court is an option.

Time Limit

The Louisiana statute of limitations prevents you from initiating a lawsuit after too much time has passed once. In Louisiana, the allotted time is much shorter than other states: you have only one year from the day of the accident to file a lawsuit.

Damages

Recovery in court is usually broken into economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages represent the monetary costs that resulted from the injury. They can include medical expenses, lost future income, loss of property, costs to repair or replace property or loss of employment opportunities. Non-economic damages are sometimes called "pain and suffering" damages because they are designed to compensate you for the mental and physical distress you suffered from the injury.

Like most states, there is an upper limit on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. However, Louisiana is fairly unique among states in that the cap applies to the total amount of damages available to a plaintiff, not just a limit on certain categories of damages. Louisiana limits total damages awards to $500,000 in medical malpractice cases, and any amount over $100,000 will be paid out through the state Patient's Compensation Fund, an insurance-type fund that automatically covers all health care providers.

In negligence lawsuits, the defendant will often claim that the plaintiff was in fact the negligent party (or at least partly so). In olden times, any shared (aka contributory) negligence by the plaintiff barred any recovery, but this harsh rule has been softened by the comparative negligence doctrine in our state. In a comparative negligence state, fault is assigned to each party and damages are reduced in proportion to your relative fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an accident which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900. Significantly, Louisiana is one of 13 states to have a "pure" comparative negligence standard, which means that even if your injury is found to be 99% your own fault, you can still recover 1%.

Workers' Compensation

If an injury or illness is job-related, you may be entitled to receive medical care for the injury or illness, disability compensation for a portion of your list wages, rehabilitation services, and, in the event of your death, benefits payable to your survivors through the Louisiana Workforce Commission. Workers' compensation is more like insurance than a lawsuit, and almost all Louisiana employees are covered (thought here are specific statutory exemptions).

If you are injured on the job, make sure you report the injury to your employer as quickly as possible. Your employer then has ten days (from the date they learn of the injury) to file a First Report of Injury of Illness with their insurer, who will pass it on to the state. If your employer is not being honest about the extent of your injury, you can dispute the claim by filing a Disputed Claim for Compensation by mail to:

Office of Workers' Compensation Administration
P.O. Box 94040
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9040

If you have questions about a specific case, you may wish to consult with a local personal injury attorney.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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