You're at a boutique in Elmwood Village when a light fixture that wasn't properly secured falls from the ceiling and onto your head. Or perhaps you're crossing a street downtown when a driver takes a right turn into the crosswalk and right into you. Whatever your personal injury, you're probably feeling frustrated and anxious about how you're going to pay the bills. If you've been injured in Buffalo because of the carelessness, recklessness or wrongdoing of another, you may be entitled to compensation under New York personal injury law.
This article answers some important questions relevant to your Buffalo personal injury case. For more general information related to your personal injury case, check out FindLaw's Accidents and Injuries section.
Do you have a valid claim?
Many personal injury cases are based, at least in part, on negligence claims. Under the legal theory of negligence, you, the injured party, must prove that a person owed you a duty of care, that he breached (violated) that duty, and as a result of his breach, you were injured. Every state has negligence laws that define standards of care for different types of people, such as medical professionals and property owners. Many states also have laws that limit or bar recovery by an injured person who is partially at fault for his or her injury.
Will your recovery be limited or prohibited?
Under New York's comparative negligence law, an injured party will be prevented from recovery if he is found to be more than 50% at fault for his injury. An injured party who is less than 50% at fault will be able to recover from another party at fault, but his recovery will be reduced in proportion to his fault.
Take this example: Penny is injured and sustains $100,000 in injury-related expenses after Dan hits her with his car. The court finds that Penny is 10% at fault in the accident and Dan is 90% at fault. Penny may recover from Dan because she is less than 50% at fault. However, she will only be able to recover $90,000: $100,000 minus the $10,000 that represents her portion of fault in the accident.
When should you file your claim?
After an injury, the last thing you want to think about is filing a lawsuit, but if you wait too long, you may lose the ability to file a claim at all. Statutes of limitations are laws that limit the amount of time a person has to file a lawsuit. New York's statute of limitations for filing a claim for an injury to your person is three years from the time the injury took place. There are exceptions for injuries that aren't likely to be discovered until long after they occurred. There are also different limitations for medical malpractice claims.
Where should you file your claim?
New York's court system has several levels. Depending on how much money you're claiming in damages for your injury, you'll file your claim with one of three courts. If you're claiming up to $15,000, you'll file with the Buffalo City Court. If your claim is between $15,000 and $25,000, you'll file with the Erie County Court. Finally, if your claim totals more than $25,000, you'll file with the Erie County Supreme Court.
What can you claim as damages in your lawsuit?
"Damages" is a legal term that refers to the amount of money the court awards to the injured party in a personal injury lawsuit. In your personal injury lawsuit, you will claim damages that represent the losses you suffered as a result of your injury. This includes medical expenses, past and future lost wages, the cost of childcare and other services that you needed because of your injury and more.
Damages can also include compensation for non-monetary losses like pain and suffering and emotional distress. For more information, check out FindLaw's section on injury damages.
Should you hire an attorney?
If you haven't done so already, you may want to consider consulting a Buffalo personal injury attorney about your case. Personal injury cases often come down to complex legal issues, and you may be more likely to prevail on a claim and maximize your recovery if an attorney represents you. However, it is not mandatory to have an attorney to file a lawsuit. If you plan to represent yourself, the staff at the 8th District Court Help Center in Buffalo can give you forms and information about how to proceed with your lawsuit.
Contact a qualified attorney.