Whether your car gets totaled at Howe and Folsom, you slip in a puddle at the grocery store, or the surgeon at a hospital leaves a surgical sponge in your tummy, there are a million ways for your delicate body to suffer injury. In a perfect world, the person who hurt you would pay up immediately, but folks have a tendency to sidestep responsibility or point fingers. Now you're at your wits end and need some way to recover the expenses associated with the injury: it may be time for a lawsuit. But pursuing a lawsuit is a daunting proposition, so FindLaw has created this general guide to prepare you for what to expect from a Sacramento personal injury lawsuit.
When Can I File Suit?
You may initiate a personal injury lawsuit up to two years after most injury-causing accidents. This limitations period begins running the day you were hurt. Alternatively, if your case is based on medical malpractice, you have three years from the day of the injury, or one year from the day you discover or should've discovered the injury. If the limitations period for you lawsuit expires, the judge will dismiss your complaint regardless of the strength of your claim.
How Do I Start a Lawsuit?
The best place to file your complaint is the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse located at 720 9th St. However, if you suit is worth $10,000 or less you may instead opt for the informal procedure of small claims court. If you want more info about small claims procedure, try the Small Claims Advisory Clinic located on the third floor of the Carol Miller Justice Center at 301 Bicentennial Circle.
What Claims Can I Pursue?
The most common cause of action after a serious injury is negligence. Negligence is popular because it is it governs accidental conduct, so you don't have to prove that the defendant intended to hurt you. To succeed in a negligence lawsuit you must show that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable caution under the circumstances, and this failure caused your injuries.
Often, multiple defendants (or even the plaintiff himself) contributed to the injury. This situation calls for the comparative negligence doctrine for distributing damages. Under California's comparative negligence law, fault is assigned to each negligent party and damages are distributed according to 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, California is one of 13 states that uses a "pure" comparative negligence standard, which means that even if the injury was 99% your fault you can still recover 1%.
While negligence covers accidental injuries, the law of intentional torts, such as assault or battery, governs intentionally caused injuries.
If the injuries were severe enough to result in someone's death, that individual's surviving family members could sue under wrongful death theory. This is similar to a negligence lawsuit but differs in that is seeks to recover the unfair costs the survivors must bear, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost 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.
Alternatively, instead of suing the individual who caused the you could sue the maker of the injury-causing product under products liability law. These lawsuits point out a design or manufacturing defect with the product that led to the injury. These cases can be highly technical and you will probably need to hire an expert witness.
Knowing which legal theories give you the best chance to recover, so you may wish to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. Most lawyers in this field will give you a free initial consultation, and usually work on a contingency basis which means they don't get paid until you win the case.
How Much Will I Recover?
Damages come in two flavors: economic and non-economic. Economic injuries are injuries that easily compute into a monetary value, such as medical expenses, lost income, property damage, costs of repair or replacement and loss of employment opportunities.
Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are more difficult to quantify. The most common non-economic damage asked for in personal injury lawsuits are "pain and suffering" damages. Pain and suffering damages compensate you for the mental and physical distress you suffer as a result of the injury. Under California law, pain and suffering damages cannot exceed $250,000 in a medical malpractice lawsuit, though there's no damages limitation for pain and suffering in typical personal injury cases.
What If I'm Injured at Work?
California law requires almost all employers to carry worker's compensation insurance. It acts as an alternative to a lawsuit; instead of suing someone, you make a claim on your employer's insurance policy. The first step toward a successful worker's compensation claim is to report the injury to your employer as quickly as possible. If you do not report the injury within 30 days of sustaining it, you could forfeit all benefits.
Your employer must provide you with a complaint form within one working day. Then you submit a complaint form to your employer, who will in turn submit your claim to a claims administrator with the California Division of Worker's Compensation. Worker's Compensation law is technical, so browse the Guidebook for Injured Workers to make sure you don't miss anything.
Contact a qualified attorney.