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Your New Orleans Personal Injury Case: The Basics

Last updated: October 18, 2013

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world out there. At any moment you could be involved in a serious accident. Maybe you slipped and fell while touring the French Quarter. Or perhaps you tumbled down a ladder at Mardi Gras while trying to dodge a handful of flying celebratory beads. Worse still, maybe you choked at the French Market on the best buttery croissant of your life.

Now, you're sitting on a gurney in the Tulane emergency room waiting your turn. Whatever your situation, knowing your rights is paramount.

What should you do? What should you expect? Here's some information to help guide you through the process of a personal injury case in New Orleans.

Step One: Get Thee to a Doctor

Seek medical attention if you are injured. Your health should always be your first concern. Be completely honest with your doctor and explain how the injury happened. If you are injured work, contact the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

Step Two: Be Your Own Detective

You're thinking of opening a personal injury claim. Where should you begin? First, you might consider writing down how the incident occurred while it's still fresh in your mind. Also, take some pictures of any physical damage, defective products, or of yourself if you have visible signs of injury. Document all your out-of-pocket expenses. Keep any receipts or medical bills. Take note of how much work you've missed. Next, consider speaking with a knowledge personal injury attorney. Here's a general outline of how a civil lawsuit plays out.

Roadmap of an Orleans Parish Personal Injury Case

1. Someone is injured;
2. A complaint is filed and served by the plaintiff;
3. The defendant may be required to file an answer;
4. Both sides gather evidence;
5. A pre-trial conference takes place between judge and the attorneys to discuss possible settlement. You may also be able to hire a mediator and settle out of court;
6. If there isn't a settlement, trial takes place and a verdict is rendered;
7. Either party can appeal the decision to appellate courts.

Step Three: Know Your Time Limits

Louisiana has one of the shortest statutes of limitation in the country. For most personal injury claims, you'll only have one year from the date of injury to file a claim. There are some exceptions for minors and mentally impaired persons. Remember, even if you have a legitimate claim you may be unable to ever receive compensation for an accident if you file too late.

Step Four: Know the Law

In order to win your case, you must prove the defendant was negligent or "at fault" for your injuries. There are a number of different ways to prove fault. It will depend on the particular circumstances.

Louisiana uses a pure comparative negligence rule. That means if you are injured, you can still recover damages even if you are partly to blame. However, your money award will be reduced by your percentage of fault.

For example, you are injured in an accident, but also 50% at fault. If the damage award is $50,000, you'll only receive $25,000. The same process would follow were 75%, 20%, or even 99% at fault for an accident.

Step Five: Learn about damages

There are several types of injuries for which a person can collect damages. The most common type is physical injuries, which include direct trauma to the body. A victim may be to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages (past, present and future), pain and suffering, loss of life's pleasures, scarring and disfigurement. You may also be able to recover for emotional pain and stress. If your personal property was destroyed, you might be able to recover for that including the cost to repair or replace your motor vehicle, as well as any personal property (such as clothing). If a loved one was killed, then your family can file a special type of personal injury claim known as a wrongful death lawsuit.

Punitive damages usually are sought only if the defendant was grossly reckless or intended to injure the plaintiff. These damages are awarded as punishment to make sure the defendant won't commit the act again.

Step Six: Prepare for the "Reality" of the Courtroom

If you do decide to sue, your lawyer will provide details about where and when to appear in court. Usually the case is filed in the county where the injury happened.

It's not like what you see on TV. Iconic, small-town attorney Atticus Finch will not be there. Nor will high-octane Navy JAG litigator, Tom Cruise. Expect ordinary people, in an ordinary government building. (As much as we'd like to see Richard Gere do a tap dance in front of a jury, we'll just have to see that on TV). Here's a list of courthouses in Orleans Parish.