Another boring day at work quickly becomes your worst nightmare when a driver headed north on Route 29 drifts into oncoming traffic. The head-on collision is a blur, but you wake up at Mercer Hospital surrounded by your misty-eyed family. Now your head is swimming in painkillers and everyone is saying you're lucky to be alive, but no one can give you a straight answer -- what happens next? How bad are your injuries? When can you return to work? Who will pay these medical bills? And when will this splitting headache finally go away?
Sustaining even a minor injury can be traumatizing, while a major one can permanently alter your life. To add insult to injury, literally, filing a personal injury lawsuit is a daunting proposition for the uninitiated. To ease your burden, FindLaw has created this guide to prepare you for what to expect from your Trenton personal injury case.
The most frequent type of lawsuit that stems from an injury is based on negligence law. Negligence governs harm that was inflicted accidentally. You must show that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable caution under the circumstances, and this failure caused your injuries. Read up on the five elements of negligence to learn more.
Often, the plaintiff was a little careless themselves and actually contributed to their own injuries. Historically, contributing to one's own injuries was a total bar to recovering any compensation. This harsh rule has been softened by rules known as comparative negligence. Under New Jersey law, fault is assigned each plaintiff and defendant, and the plaintiff's total recovery is reduced by the percent he is found to be at 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. However, if the jury determines that the plaintiff is more than 50% responsible for the incident causing the alleged injury, the plaintiff is precluded from recovery.
If your injuries were caused or exacerbated by a health care provider, you could file a medical malpractice lawsuit. It is significant to note that New Jersey is one of the rare states with no upper limit on "pain and suffering" damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.
If the defendant injured you on purpose, you may have an assault or battery cause of action instead.
If the injured person died as a result of the injuries, close family members may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit for them. Wrongful death lawsuits seek compensation for unfair costs borne by the family of the deceased, such as lost wages, lost companionship, medical bills, and funeral expenses.
If you have been injured by a consumer product, it's possible that you could sue the manufacturer of the injury-causing product in a products liability lawsuit. This type of suit alleges that the product has a design or manufacturing defect that caused the product to malfunction and injure you in an unexpected way. Products liability governs a huge range of products, including medicine, cars, baby's toys, food and toxic materials.
New Jersey employers are required to carry workers' compensation insurance in case one of their employees suffers a workplace injury. Benefits can include medical treatment, wage replacement and permanent disability compensation to employees who suffer job-related injuries or illnesses, and death benefits to family members of workers who have died as a result of their employment.
Workers' compensation is insurance, not a type of lawsuit. The key to successfully receiving your benefits is to report your injury to your employer as quickly as possible. Your employer should automatically report this claim to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, but if your employer disputes your claim you can file yourself with a Claim Petition or an Application for an Informal Hearing with the Division of Workers' Compensation.
How to Initiate a Lawsuit
To start a lawsuit you must draft a complaint, which is a brief description of the injury-causing event and a request for compensation, and then file the complaint at your local courthouse. Once it is filed, send a filed copy of the complaint and a summons (PDF) to every defendant via certified return-receipt mail.
If you get writer's block, you may want to consider scheduling a free consultation with an experienced personal injury. Personal injury attorneys almost universally work on a contingency fee basis, which means that, instead of paying them per hour or a flat rate for work they do up front, they take a certain percent of your recovery. Yes, this means they don't get paid until you win. If you don't win (or settle), you typically pay nothing.
Every lawsuit is accompanied by a statute of limitations, which places a time limit on how long you have to initiate your lawsuit. The New Jersey statute of limitations prohibits lawsuits for injuries that occurred more than two years before the filing date. If you fail to file your lawsuit within two years of suffering the injury, you cannot recover regardless of how strong your case is.
The harm you suffered converted into dollars is called damages. Damages are broken into two categories -- economic and non-economic. Economic damages represent the monetary costs you were burdened with as a result of the injury. They can include medical expenses, lost future income, loss of property, costs to repair or replace property or loss of employment opportunities.
Can you really put a price on pain? Well, courts do on a daily basis. Non-economic damages are sometimes called "pain and suffering" damages because they are designed to compensate you for the mental and physical distress you suffered from the injury. Significantly, New Jersey is one of the few states with no upper limit on the amount of non-economic damages you could be awarded.
Read more about your specific cause of action in FindLaw's personal injury section.
Contact a qualified attorney.