The human body is remarkably fragile. You didn't see that tiny puddle in Ward's, and now you have a twisted ankle, fractured forearm and a lump on your head the size of a baseball. Everyone expresses their utmost sympathy, but no one can give you a straight answer to your biggest question: what happens next? Who will pay the hospital bills? What if you are unable to return to work? And when will this killer headache finally go away? The legal world is a confusing place, and standing up for yourself is a daunting prospect, which is why FindLaw has created this guide to prepare you for what to expect from your Gainesville personal injury case.
Types of Lawsuits
The most common lawsuit that follows a personal injury is negligence. The law of negligence governs injuries that were inflicted accidentally, so you don't need to prove that the other party intended to harm you. You will succeed in your negligence lawsuit if you convince the jury that the other party failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and that this failure caused your injury.
Related to negligence, medical malpractice lawsuits apply when the injury was accidentally inflicted by a medical professional, for example through misdiagnosis, unreasonable delay in treatment, or leaving a foreign object inside your body during surgery.
If the defendant injured you on purpose, the law of intentional torts permits you to sue under assault or battery theory. Alternatively, you can sue the business that created the injury-causing product in a products liability lawsuit. In these cases, you must point out a defect in the design or manufacturing process that caused your injury. These cases can be highly technical, so it is best to recruit an expert witness in the applicable field.
In cases involving the death of a close family member, the surviving family members can sue for wrongful death. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship and funeral expenses. Wrongful death lawsuits can be based on negligence, medical malpractice, products defect or an intentional tort.
Filing a Lawsuit
Starting a lawsuit is straightforward. You need to write and file a complaint that briefly describes the incident, names the parties involved and requests compensation for your injuries. You can file your complaint at the Alachua County Family / Civil Justice Center, right across the street from the library at 201 East University Avenue. The small claims division is located in the same courthouse, but only handles civil actions worth less than $5,000. Read this helpful guide to Gainesville small claims procedure before filing.
But don't wait too long to file your suit. Under Florida's statute of limitations you have four years from the date of the injury to initiate a lawsuit, or else you forfeit the right to sue forever. There is an even shorter two-year time limit for medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuits. The statute of limitations may seem unfair, but it serves an important role in ensuring the integrity of the evidence and witness memory before too much time has passed.
These technical rules have your head swimming yet? You ought to consider scheduling a free consultation with a local personal injury attorney. Personal injury attorneys almost always work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid a percentile of your settlement. Yes, that means they don't get paid until you win.
The monetary sum for harm you have suffered is called "damages." Damages are traditionally split into two categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages are fairly straightforward because they can easily be calculated. They include medical expenses, lost future income, loss of property, costs to repair or replace property and loss of employment opportunities.
Can you really put a price on pain? Well, apparently our court system can. Non-economic damages are sometimes referred to as "pain and suffering" damages because they serve to compensate you for the physical pain and mental anguish that resulted from the injury. Relevant factors include loss of enjoyment of life, fear and anxiety, sleeplessness, scarring and disfigurement.
Florida has a complicated sliding scale damage limitation for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases: for most cases, you will be unable to recover more than $500,000 in non-economic damages unless you suffered a "catastrophic injury."
Often the plaintiff acted a little negligently too and contributed to his own injury. These cases are governed by Florida's comparative fault law. Florida is a pure comparative negligence state, which means fault is assigned to each party as a percentile, and your ultimate recovery is diminished by the percent you are responsible for. 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, Florida 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%.
If you were injured at your place of work you may not need to file a lawsuit at all. In Florida any business with four or more employees must carry workers' compensation insurance. This insurance pays out benefits to injured employees, including compensation for medical bills, temporary and permanent disability benefits and disfigurement benefits.
The first step to recovery is reporting the injury to your employer. You must report the accident within 30 days or else you risk forfeiting your benefits. Your employer should automatically report your claim to the Division of Workers' Compensation. If you need more information, read through this thorough brochure (PDF) provided by the state to guide injured employees through the procedure.
Personal injury law is a big field and you're just getting started. Read more on Findlaw's Personal Injury Law section.
Contact a qualified attorney.