You were jogging on the Cape Fear River Trail when a dog bit you on the leg. Your husband ate a burger at the Dogwood Festival and got severe food poisoning. Your son went to a concert at Crown Center and tripped on an unsecured cord, breaking his arm in the fall. Your daughter was given the wrong medications at Highsmith-Rainey Specialty Hospital and developed new symptoms and problems. Personal injuries can happen in a variety of ways and can be frightening and confusing to deal with when they do. Here is some basic information to help guide you through your personal injury case in Fayetteville.
The first thing to do after any injury is to attend to any immediate medical needs you may have. Assuming you have done this, the next thing you may want to focus on is collecting information and evidence regarding the injury and its effects -- this can include taking photographs; writing down notes regarding the circumstances of the accident and your course of treatment afterwards; keeping copies of medical treatment reports and bills; tracking any lost time from work; and collecting the contact information of any witnesses. For additional tips, refer to the FindLaw section on First Steps After An Injury.
In some cases, personal injury matters can be resolved with insurance companies to the satisfaction of all parties. However, if you run into problems, have questions, or wish to file a complaint, you may want to contact the North Carolina Department of Insurance.
If you decide to pursue legal action, keep in mind that you have a limited time frame within which to do so. These time frames are called Statutes of Limitations and they vary by state and type of case. In Fayetteville and the rest of North Carolina, you generally have 3 years (PDF) to bring a personal injury action. There is some leeway if you did not or could not have discovered your injury until after it occurred, but in no circumstance can the case be brought more than 10 years after the accident. Note that if you are filing a wrongful death action, the statute of limitations provides that you have 2 years from the date of death. Be sure to keep an eye on the time frame applicable to your type of case.
Where to File Your Suit
If you are seeking damages (monetary compensation) of $5000 or less, you may bring your suit in small claims division of the Cumberland County Superior Court. Otherwise, for amounts in controversy over $10,000, you will likely file in the civil division of the Cumberland County Superior Court.
Depending on the specifics of your case, you may be entitled to "economic damages" such as medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, and "noneconomic damages" like pain and suffering. In some limited serious cases, punitive damages may also be available.
In most personal injury cases the individual bringing suit (the plaintiff) alleges that another party (the defendant) acted negligently. To act negligently is basically to act carelessly and for that carelessness to cause or contribute to the accident and injury.
In some situations, however, the plaintiff is also negligent -- what happens then? North Carolina is one of the very few states that still adheres to the contributory negligence standard. This means that if the plaintiff is even 1% at fault, he cannot recover from the other party.
You may wish to retain an attorney to fight against any allegation that you are negligent or simply to help to maximize your recovery. Many personal injury lawyers will offer you a free initial consultation and thereafter work on a "contingency" fee agreement, which means that their fees will be deducted from the amount of your recovery. If you don't win or settle your case, they don't get paid. Check out the FindLaw section on Using A Personal Injury Lawyer for sample fee agreements, forms and more.
On The Job Injuries
If your injury happened at work, your case will most likely proceed through the separate workers' compensation system. You should report your injury right away to your employer and seek out appropriate medical treatment. Check the North Carolina Industrial Commission website for more information as to what steps to take after a workplace injury.
Want More Information?
For a comprehensive overview of personal injury law in general, check out FindLaw's section on Accidents and Injuries.
Contact a qualified attorney.