Your Edison Personal Injury Case: The Basics
Life in Edison is busy busy busy. The kids are involved in so many after school activities, and you and your spouse both have excellent, demanding jobs. Weekends are spent going to NYC. Sometimes you head south, but only in the vague misplaced hope that the Mets might someday - someday! - beat the Phillies. Yes, life is pretty great in Edison, but when someone gets hurt, whether it's from a slip and fall outside your daughter's Bharatnatyam class or an upset stomach from some bad dosa, it can totally derail your plans. Here's the information you need to finish your case as quickly as possible.
There is No One Type of Personal Injury Case
Personal injury can describe many different types of law, and it can be difficult to generalize by practicing all of "personal injury law." Most lawyers choose to specialize in only one category, since the laws for determining fault can vary from category to category. The one thing all these areas of law have in common is that they are all resolved through the civil litigation system. Personal injury cases include:
- Automobile accidents;
- Slip and falls;
- Product liability, including unsafe food, and defective household products and automobiles;
- Medical malpractice;
- Dog bites and animal attacks;
- Disputes stemming from a physical altercation, like assault and battery;
- Cases where there is no physical injury, like defamation; and
- Some workplace accidents.
First Steps after an Accident
The first steps after an injury that might lead to a lawsuit are the same no matter what kind of accident you have: 1) if necessary, go see a doctor; 2) contact your insurance company to file a claim; and 3) document what happened so you can remember it later.
A successful legal claim will be cold comfort if you make your injuries worse by not seeing a doctor. Seeking medical attention should be an obvious first step. Promptly seeing a doctor may even help your legal claim by creating a record of your injuries.
Next, be sure to check your insurance policies and file a claim if necessary. Automobile accidents are covered by one or both drivers' automobile insurance, and many accidents that happen in and around the home are covered by homeowners' insurance. Some business owners may also have insurance policies that cover workplace accidents. These policies will typically reimburse you for the damage your sustained in the accident, and if someone decides to sue you, may pay for a lawyer for your defense. Be sure to file a claim as soon as possible so you do not miss the deadline for filing a claim.
Third, be sure to document everything so that you can remember what happened weeks or months later. Some kinds of written documentation can be very valuable in a lawsuit, so be sure to get and keep copies of any official records: police reports, medical records, insurance paperwork, and even correspondence. Take notes about what happened as soon as possible after the incident while the memories are fresh. Photograph anything that seems relevant - injuries, the scene of the accident, property damage - anything you can think of. Witness accounts may be helpful later, so get the name and contact information of anyone involved in the accident, or anyone who happened to see it.
After the injuries have been cared for and the photographs saved, you may want to consult with a lawyer after your accident if you think you might want to sue a responsible party. New Jersey, just like every other state, has time limits on when you can bring a suit. If you are suing someone else, you are known as the "plaintiff." In these circumstances, the injured party will want to look for plaintiffs' attorneys who specialize in the type of accident that caused their injury in the Edison area. These kinds of lawyers handle many cases of these type each year, and know the ins and outs of local law. Plaintiffs' attorneys often operate on contingency fees, which means they will get a portion of whatever award you get at trial or in settlement.
If you are being sued, the legal world knows you as the "defendant." If your insurance company will not provide a lawyer for you, you will most likely pay your attorney an hourly fee for handling your case.
Early Stages of a Case: Discovery and Settlement Negotiations
A lawyer typically begins their work by investigating your case. She will likely review all the notes, photos, and paperwork that were saved from the day of the accident. Providing her copies can save you time and money, because the lawyer won't have to spend time looking for them. A lawyer will probably exchange some of these documents with the opposing side in a process called discovery.
Once an attorney has enough information, she may start to offer settlement deals to the defendant and the insurance company. Meanwhile, she may begin to file the complaint and other pleadings or pretrial motions to ensure that the chance to be in court is not forfeited.
The case can go to trial if no settlement can be reached. Civil cases are heard in the Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon, or Warren County Courthouses, depending on where you live. A lawyer may be able to help decide which courthouse is the best one for a particular case. How long a trial lasts depends on how complicated a case is - in general, trials can last anywhere from a day to several weeks.
If the judge or jury rules for the plaintiff, the plaintiff will get a monetary award. However, this does not mean all the money goes straight to the plaintiff. First, the lawyer will take her share. Then, the plaintiff's health, auto, and homeowners' insurance may try to take some of the award as compensation on the claims they have already paid out.
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.