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Your Appleton Personal Injury Case: The Basics

Last updated: December 13, 2013

You wanted to get in the holiday spirit, so you and a group of your girlfriends from work decided to take a Victorian Christmas evening tour at the Hearthstone Historic House Museum. The music and the decorations did the trick -- you were humming carols and had visions of sugarplums dancing in your head. You stopped by the gift shop on the way out to pick up something for your daughter when you suddenly slipped on a wet spot on the floor. You came down hard on your hip and when you went to get up realized you couldn't.

This injury was worse than you thought. As you waited for the ambulance to arrive, a million questions filled your head -- what happened? When would you be able to go back to work? Who was going to pay the medical bills? Can and should you file a lawsuit?

This article provides some basic information specific to Appleton personal injury cases. For a comprehensive overview on personal injury actions in general, check out the FindLaw section on Accident and Injury Law.

What Is A Personal Injury Case?

A personal injury case is a legal dispute that arises when one party is injured and claims that another party is legally responsible. Often these cases resolve informally before a lawsuit is filed, but when legal action is pursued these are civil (as opposed to criminal) actions. Typically, in a personal injury lawsuit the injured party (the plaintiff) attempts to establish that the other party (the defendant) acted negligently and asks the court to award "damages" or monetary compensation.

How Long Do I Have To File A Suit?

If you decide to pursue legal action, keep an eye on the calendar. There are time limits within which you must file your case called statutes of limitations. These vary by state and by type of case, and in Appleton and the rest of Wisconsin, you generally have 3 years to bring a personal injury case.

Where Do I File Suit?

You will likely be filing your personal injury suit at the Outagamie County Circuit Court. If you are claiming $5,000 or less in damages, you may consider filing in the small claims division. The Wisconsin Courts even have an interactive website that helps you fill out small claims forms.

What Is Negligence?

Frequently, personal injury cases are based on the plaintiff alleging that the defendant acted negligently. To act negligently is basically to act carelessly and for that carelessness to cause or contribute to the accident and injury. In order to show that the defendant was negligent you generally need to establish 5 things:

  1. That the defendant owed you a duty;
  2. That the defendant breached that duty;
  3. If not for the defendant's actions, you would not have been injured;
  4. That the defendant's actions were the proximate cause of your injury; and
  5. That you suffered damages as a result.

If you can establish these elements, you can generally show that the defendant is legally responsible for your loss and he will be ordered to pay your damages.

What If I Was Partially at Fault?

Although in some circumstances the defendant is 100% at fault, there are many scenarios in which both parties are partially responsible. States handle this differently. Appleton and the rest of Wisconsin follow what is known as a modified comparative negligence rule. Basically, so long as you are not more negligent than the defendant, you can still pursue your claim, although your damages will be reduced by the percentage of your fault.

So, for example, if you were 40% negligent and you have total damages of $10,000, you would still be able to pursue your claim for $6,000 or 60% as against the defendant.

What Damages Are Available?

An injury can't be undone, but you can be reimbursed for the expenses you incurred and compensated for the pain and suffering you endured. This monetary compensation is referred to as damages and is often discussed in terms of "economic damages" -- the tangible, quantifiable items like medical bills, lost wages, etc. -- and "non-economic damages" such as pain and suffering. You typically will seek both types.

If you are filing a medical malpractice action, bear in mind that in Appleton and the rest of Wisconsin limits non-economic damages to $750,000.

Do I Need A Lawyer to Represent Me?

Depending on the extent of your injuries it is recommended that you at least consult with an injury lawyer. A skilled attorney can realistically access the value of your case, deal with the red tape, and work to obtain the best settlement or verdict on your behalf. Many offer a free initial consultation, and if you decide to work together, can arrange to work on a "contingency fee," which means that their fees are deducted out of the money that you recover.

Refer to Findlaw's section on using a personal injury lawyer for more information, including sample agreements, intake questionnaires, and more.