You have seen wrecks along the shoulder of Seward Highway before, but you never thought it could happen to you. Or maybe the doctor at Alaska Regional Hospital misdiagnosed your illness and prescribed something horribly inappropriate. The world is a dangerous place, and Anchorage is no exception. There is a good chance that at some point in your life you or someone you love will suffer a fairly serious injury. Through no fault of your own you are burdened with medical bills, inability to work, plus that splitting headache that won't go away.
Luckily, you may have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit. Personal injury lawsuits exist to compensate people who are hurt by others, whether intentionally or accidentally. You can start by following a few simple steps to preserve evidence of the injury. However, the legal process can be daunting, especially if you're unfamiliar with the Alaska legal system. So to help you navigate these murky waters, we have created a guide to prepare you for what to expect from your Anchorage personal injury case.
See FindLaw's Accident and Injury Law section for additional articles and resources.
Filing a Lawsuit
The statute of limitations places a time limit on how long after an injury-causing incident you will be able to file a lawsuit. Alaska's statute of limitations allows two years from the date of the accident, or the date you became aware of the injury, to file your personal injury lawsuit. If you do not file your lawsuit within two years of the injury, you forfeit the right to recover regardless of the strength of your case.
To file a lawsuit you must draft a complaint, which is an explanation of the basis of your claim. A complaint should be brief and plainly worded, but it has to be specific enough to show that you would win the case.
You will most likely file your complaint at the Nesbett Courthouse. If you are asking for $10,000 or less, you may file your complaint in the Alaska small claims court (PDF). Small claims court is not mandatory, but you will enjoy relaxed procedural and evidentiary rules. Use this simple small claims form to help you draft your complaint. If your claim is worth more than $10,000, you should file your claim with the Civil Division instead.
Types of Injury Lawsuits
The most well-tread path toward personal injury recovery is a negligence claim. To succeed in this type of lawsuit, you must prove that the other party failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and that this failure caused your injury.
In cases involving death, the surviving family members may be able to recover damages in a wrongful death suit. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors, such as lost wages from the deceased, the loss of companionship, and funeral expenses.
A medical malpractice lawsuit addresses injuries caused by improper treatment by healthcare professionals. For example, a doctor could misdiagnose an injury, fail to provide appropriate treatment or unreasonably delay treatment.
Workplace injuries such as slips and falls, back or neck injuries, or carpal tunnel syndrome are far too common. The Alaska workers' compensation program requires your employer to provide medical and disability benefits if you suffer injury or illness as a result of your job. Worker's compensation is a type of insurance, where an injured worker receives benefits from his or her employer without filing a lawsuit. You must report your injury using Form 6160 within 30 days of the incident or you risk forfeiting the benefits. For more information, read the Alaska Division of Workers' Compensation's informational brochure (PDF).
Historically, if you were partly to blame for the accident you would be barred from receiving any compensation. However, Alaska has softened this harsh rule by adopting a pure comparative negligence rule for distributing damages in negligence cases. Under Alaska's comparative negligence law, fault is divided among 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 injury which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. Significantly, Alaska 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%.
Types of Damages
Damages are traditionally divided into economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are designed to compensate you for monetary losses, such as:
In personal injury cases the most obvious economic damage will be medical bills, but print out FindLaw's damages worksheet to make sure nothing is overlooked. Alternatively, you may want to speak with an experience personal injury attorney who can draft the papers to initiate a lawsuit, gather the proper evidence and negotiate a settlement with the opposing party on your behalf.
The most common types of non-economic damages in personal injury cases are "pain and suffering" and punitive damages. Pain and suffering damages compensate you for the mental and physical distress you suffer as a result of the injury. In medical malpractice cases, pain and suffering damages are capped at $250,000, except in wrongful death cases or cases involving permanent physical impairment, where pain and suffering damages are capped at $400,000.
If the defendant's actions were excessively dangerous or if they intended to injure you, you may be eligible to receive punitive damages, which are designed to punish defendants for reprehensible behavior and deter others from engaging in similar acts. Punitive damages are normally capped at $500,000, but there are exceptions for particularly inexcusable conduct.
Personal injury is a complicated field of law, so you may want to speak to an attorney about your case.
Contact a qualified attorney.