Your Las Vegas Personal Injury Case: The Basics
You tripped and fell on a power cord at the Neon Museum and injured your back. Your wife's car was sideswiped by an RTC Transit bus and now she has neck pain. Your father was shopping at Mariana's Supermarket when he slipped on a wet floor and hurt his hip. Personal injuries happen all across Las Vegas every day, but can be complicated to deal with, especially if you are planning to take legal action. To help you, here is some basic information to guide you through your personal injury case in Sin City.
What Is a Personal Injury Case?
Essentially, a personal injury case is when someone is harmed by an accident or injury and claims that someone else is legally responsible for that harm. Personal injuries can be sustained all sorts of ways, including through car accidents, slip and fall incidents, medical malpractice, using defective products, and more.
Unlike criminal cases, these types of lawsuits do not involve a prosecutor acting on behalf of the government. Instead, these are actions between private parties. The person bringing the lawsuit is called the plaintiff and the person (or business, organization, etc.) alleged to have caused the injury is called the defendant.
How Do You File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Personal injury cases are civil matters. In Las Vegas, for matters involving more than $10,000, your case will likely be filed in the Eighth Judicial District Court. The small claims division of the Las Vegas Township Justice Court will hear matters involving sums up to $7500.
The opening legal document in a personal injury case is called a complaint. It lays out the facts surrounding the injury, identifies the parties, briefly states the plaintiff's arguments as to why the defendant(s) should be found responsible and makes a request of the court -- usually that the defendant pay damages (monetary compensation).
How Long Do I Have To File?
There are specified timeframes within which your case must be filed or you are forever barred. These are called statutes of limitations and they vary by state and by cause of action. In Las Vegas and the rest of Nevada, for a personal injury action you generally have 2 years. However, for a medical malpractice action in Las Vegas you have between 1 and 3 years, depending on when you found out about the malpractice.
What About Insurance?
In some cases, personal injury matters are resolved with an insurance company and no attorneys are involved. However, if you have a problem with your insurer and wish to file a complaint, you may do so through the Nevada Division of Insurance.
See FindLaw's Injury Claims and Insurance section for more, including recommended first steps after an accident, plus tips on how to protect a settlement from an insurance provider.
How Do I Prove My Case?
Figuring out who is at fault and therefore "liable" (obligated to pay) in a personal injury case can sometimes be complicated.
Many personal injury cases are based on the plaintiff's assertion that the defendant acted negligently. To act negligently is basically to act carelessly, causing or contributing to an accident.
In many cases more than one party acts negligently. In a few states, if you are found even 1% negligent, you are barred from bringing an action against the other party. However, Las Vegas and the rest of the state follow what is known as a modified comparative negligence theory. Basically, if you are less than 51% negligent, you can still pursue your action, although your damages will be reduced by the percentage of your fault.
What Damages Can I Recover?
Damages are generally divided into two main groups. There are the tangible damages (also known as economic or special damages) that are comprised of things like medical expenses and lost wages. Then there are the less tangible damages (also known as non-economic or general damages) that are comprised of things like pain and suffering. Plaintiffs often seek both.
In limited situations in Las Vegas you can also seek punitive damages in order to make an example of and punish the defendant. There are generally limits on these types of damages and they are available only in limited cases.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Depending on the extent of your injuries, you may wish to seriously consider retaining an injury attorney. In most cases, you will be offered a free consultation, and if the two of you decide to work together it will usually be on a contingency fee basis. This means that your lawyer will receive a percentage of what you recover via settlement or judgment in your favor. Should you not have any recovery in your case, you pay your attorney nothing. For more information to help you determine whether you need a lawyer and what to expect if you hire one, check out the FindLaw section on Using a Personal Injury Lawyer.