Your Minneapolis Personal Injury Case: The Basics
Deciding what to do if you've been injured can be overwhelming and confusing. At any moment you could be involved in a serious accident. Next thing you know, you end up at Abbott Northwestern Hospital emergency room. Whether you're injured at someone else's home, at work, as the result of a defective product, by a dangerous dog, or the even at the hands of a negligent doctor, knowing your rights is paramount.
What should you do? What should you expect? Here's some information to help guide you through the process of a personal injury case in the Twin Cities.
What to do first?
Seek medical attention if you are injured. Your health should always come first and foremost. Try not to minimize any pain or suffering you're feeling. Be completely honest with your doctor and explain how the injury happened. Begin to collect evidence to help your case. Speak to witnesses, keep a journal, and take photos. If you are injured on the job, contact the Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry.
You may wonder if you even have a personal injury case. How do you know for sure? There are a number of things to think about to in order to preserve your rights.
The Course of a Typical Minneapolis-Saint Paul Personal Injury Case
1. Someone is injured as the result of another's negligence.
2. A complaint is filed and served by the plaintiff.
3. The defendant may be required to file an answer.
4. Both sides gather evidence.
5. A pre-trial conference takes place between judge and the attorneys to discuss possible settlement. You may also be able to hire a mediator and settle out of court.
6. If there isn't a settlement, trial takes place and a verdict is rendered.
7. Either party can appeal the decision to appellate courts.
Minnesota's Negligence Laws: How much does "fault" matter?
In order to win your case, you must prove the defendant was negligent or "at fault" for your injuries. There are a number of different ways to prove fault. It will depend on your particular circumstances.
Minnesota uses a modified comparative negligence rule. Don't let the name intimidate you. That simply means the victim may not recover any damages if he or she was more than 50% at fault. If more than half of the accident is your fault, you're probably out of luck and can't collect anything. If you are at fault 50% or less, you can still collect money damages, but those damages will be reduced by a percentage in proportion to your fault in the accident.
Let's say you are injured in an accident, but you were also 50% at fault. If the damage award is $50,000, you will only receive $25,000.
What kind of damages can I collect?
There are several types of injuries for which a person can collect damages. The most common type is physical injuries, which include direct trauma to the body. A victim may be to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages (past, present and future), pain and suffering, loss of life's pleasures, scarring and disfigurement, and loss of consortium. Mental and emotional injuries can also be compensable. A victim may also collect money for property damages including damages to cars, houses or other personal property.
Punitive damages usually are sought only if the defendant was grossly reckless or intended to injure the plaintiff. These damages are awarded as punishment to make sure the defendant won't commit the act again.
How long do I have to file a complaint?
The standard time limit for a personal injury claim in Minnesota is two years from the date of the incident causing the harm. If the injury is due to negligent conduct, you'll have six years. There are some exceptions for minors and mentally impaired persons. Remember, even if you have a legitimate claim you may be unable to ever receive compensation for an accident if you file too late. Here's a few more:
Medical Malpractice: Four years from the date of injury.
Libel / Slander / Defamation: Two years.
Wrongful Death: Three years from the date of death.
How can I protect my rights?
- Keep a journal and calendar: As soon as possible after the accident write down every important detail you can, including the harm that resulted and its effect on your daily life. Continue to keep notes as your claim progresses and keep track of dates including medical appointments.
- Report the accident: Report the accident to the police, your insurance company or, in some circumstances, the person/entity you believe is responsible and get his or her name and address. If you are contacted by the insurance company which represents the responsible person, remember that it is best not to give the company a statement without first contacting a lawyer.
- Preserve the evidence: Evidence is the strongest link to winning personal injury cases. Take photos or videos from all angles at the accident scene and of the damages suffered. If injured, consider taking photographs periodically of the injuries.
- Obtain medical records: The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gives you the right to obtain a copy of your medical records from any medical provider.
- Gather the necessary information. Obtain police reports and the identity of any witnesses (name, address, phone number).
If you aren't sure what to do, a trained legal professional may be able to help. Lawyers take personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you do not pay for the costs of a case or pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. A settlement of your case is considered a "win" and your attorney will most likely be entitled to collect their fees.
If you do decide to sue, your lawyer will provide details about where and when to appear in court. Usually the case is filed in the county where the injury happened. Here's a list of courthouses in the Twin Cities.
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.