Your Lafayette Personal Injury Case: The Basics

The world is a surprisingly dangerous place. From a surgical mishap at the local ER, to a traffic accident through the crowded intersection at Ambassador Caffery and Kaliste Saloom, to slipping on a puddle inside Diablo Foods, it’s a minor blessing to make it through every day unscathed. Injuries aren’t fun, and lawsuits even less so, but FindLaw has created this straightforward guide to Lafayette personal injury cases to help for those unfortunate enough to be injured as a result of another’s actions.

The Statute of Limitations

The first thing you need to be aware of when pursuing a personal injury lawsuit is the deadline you have to file the case, which is called a statute of limitations. If you do not file your case within the allotted time, your case grows stale and the judge may not consider it. In Louisiana, the time period is much shorter than other states: you generally have only one year from the day of the accident to file your lawsuit.

The Claim

The most common lawsuit following an injury is negligence. Negligence governs accidentally inflicted injuries; if the defendant purposefully hurt you, the proper lawsuit is one for battery. To succeed in a negligence lawsuit, one must prove that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances that led to an injury.

In negligence lawsuits, a defendant often claims that the plaintiff was in fact the negligent party. Louisiana’s comparative negligence rules cover these situations by allowing the jury to assign fault to each party. The plaintiff’s damages are then reduced in proportion to his or her relative fault. For example, if you racked up $10,000 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 $9,000. 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%.

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

When a family member dies as the result of injuries suffered from any of the above claims, a wrongful death lawsuit may be brought. 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.

Workers’ Compensation

If your injury was sustained on the job, you may be entitled to receive free medical care through the Louisiana Workforce Commission. Almost all Louisiana employees are covered, though there are specific statutory exemptions. Workers’ Compensation is more like insurance than a lawsuit, so you don’t need to file a lawsuit. Workers’ Comp also covers disability compensation for a portion of wages, rehabilitation services, and, in the event of a death, benefits payable to survivors.

If you are injured on the job, report the injury to your employer as quickly as possible. Your employer then has ten days 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 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

Filing Your Lawsuit

To file a lawsuit, one must draft a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis of a lawsuit. A complaint should be plainly worded, but specific enough to show why the plaintiff should win the case. If this sounds complicated, you may want to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. Personal injury attorneys almost universally work on a contingency basis, which means they don’t get paid until and unless they’ve won a case.

One can file a lawsuit in either City Court or District Court, depending on the amount of damages suffered. If the suit involves $35,000 or less, it can be filed in the Lafayette City Court, located at 105 E. Convent Street. If a claim is worth more than $35,000 it should be filed in the 15th Judicial District Courthouse instead, located at 800 South Buchanan Street. For more informal procedures on claims worth $5,000 or less, the small claims division at the City Court may be a good option.

Damages

They say you can’t put a price on pain, but the Louisiana judicial system does so on a daily basis when awarding damages to injured plaintiffs. Damages are split into two categories. Economic damages represent the financial burdens you suffer as a result of an injury, and include:

  • medical expenses;
  • lost future income;
  • loss of property;
  • costs to repair or replace property, and;
  • loss of employment opportunities.

Non-economic damages are sometimes called “pain and suffering” damages because they are designed to compensate someone for the mental and physical distress they suffered from an injury.

Like most states, there is an upper limit on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Louisiana is fairly unique among states in that the limit is applied to the total amount of damages available to a plaintiff, not just a limit on non-economic damages. Louisiana limits total medical malpractice damage awards to $500,000. Furthermore, any award over $100,000 will be paid from the state Patient’s Compensation Fund, an insurance-type program that automatically covers all health care providers.

Even though you now may know some general information about Lafayette personal injury cases, you may very well have questions about your specific circumstances. A local attorney specializing in personal injury law may be able to help.

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