You had stopped at the local supermarket after work to pick up dinner. You were racing through the aisles and didn't notice the broken bottle of olive oil on the ground until it was much too late. Your legs slipped out in front of you while you held onto the cart for balance. Bad idea. You fell backwards and the cart came down on top of you. On the way to the hospital you kept replaying the fall in your mind. Could you have avoided it? How long had the oil been there? Why hadn't someone mopped it up or at least put up a sign? You started wondering about medical bills and the time you would have to take off work. You thought maybe you should file a personal injury case. But what did that entail and what could you expect? We've compiled some basic, general information about a typical Albany personal injury case here.
The most important thing after sustaining a personal injury is to get any required medical care. Before leaving the scene, however, if you are able, or have someone who can act on your behalf, it is a good idea to collect any evidence you can about the accident. This can include taking photographs of the scene and your injuries, getting the names and contact information of any witnesses, and jotting down notes about what happened. For additional tips, check out this FindLaw section on First Steps After An Injury.
You will likely be dealing with insurance adjusters following an injury. Sometimes personal injury matters are resolved between the parties and their insurance companies before a formal lawsuit is even filed by way of an informal settlement.
Filing a Lawsuit
If you decide instead to take formal legal action, bear in mind that there are timeframes within you must do so or abandon your case forever. These time limits are called Statutes of Limitations and they vary by state and cause of action. In Albany and the rest of New York you generally have 3 years to bring a personal injury matter.
Which court will hear your case depends in part on how much you are seeking. For claims up to $15,000 in monetary damages, you will likely file at the Albany City Court. The small claims division of that court can handle claims where the damages sought are $5000 or less. For claims up to $25,000, the Albany County Court has jurisdiction, and for claims over $25,000, the Albany County Supreme Court will likely be your venue. FindLaw has compiled a helpful directory for all these courthouses.
Proving Your Case/Negligence
Most personal injury cases are based on one party (the plaintiff) alleging that another party (the defendant) acted negligently. To act negligently is essentially to act carelessly and for that carelessness to cause or contribute to the accident.
More specifically, to establish negligence, the plaintiff has to show: 1) that the defendant owed a duty of care 2) that the defendant breached that duty through his actions or inactions, 3) that the defendant caused an accident or injury which involved the plaintiff, and 4) that the plaintiff was injured as a result.
In some cases, the plaintiff also acts negligently. States vary on how they handle this, following either a contributory negligence or a comparative negligence approach. Under the contributory negligence theory a plaintiff who is even 1% at fault will be barred from any recovery. Fortunately, Albany and the rest of New York follow the pure comparative negligence theory in which your negligence will not bar your recovery, but your damages will be reduced in proportion to your fault. So, for example if you were seeking $10,000 in damages, but were 50% at fault, you would still be able to pursue your claim for the other $5000 (50%).
Typically in a personal injury suit you will seek damages (monetary compensation) for the losses you suffered as a result of the accident. These can include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and more. Check out this FindLaw glossary for a more detailed description of the various types of Economic Recovery for Accidents and Injuries.
Having an attorney on your side in a personal injury matter can make a big difference and it is recommended that you at least consult with an injury lawyer to assess your case. A skilled attorney can help maximize your recovery either through settlement or a verdict and can bring objectivity and perspective to your case. Check out FindLaw section about Using a Personal Injury Lawyer for more information , as well as some sample forms and more.
Contact a qualified attorney.