Your Tulsa Personal Injury Case: The Basics
The world is a dangerous place. Anyone can suffer an injury at any time, in any setting, through no fault of their own. Most injuries are accidental, but that does not ease the pain or pay the doctor's bills. Personal injury lawsuits exist to compensate people who are harmed by others, whether intentionally or accidentally. A minor injury can be a terrifying experience, while a major one can be life altering. It does not help that you must brave the Oklahoma legal system to recover compensation. To help you navigate these murky waters, we have created a guide to prepare you for what to expect from your Tulsa personal injury case.
With the trauma of injury, grief of loved ones, swarm of doctors and who knows how many painkillers, filing a lawsuit is probably the last thing on your mind after suffering an injury. However, there are a few simple steps you can take to protect your ability to be compensated. The key is to preserve written evidence whenever possible. Specifically, you should take careful notes on:
- how the injury was suffered;
- details on the place, time, who was present, weather;
- details about what you saw or experienced;
- statements made by any party or witness;
- the extent of your injuries;
- the impact you suffered mentally and emotionally, socially, in the workplace, and within your family;
- all medical treatment.
You should continue taking notes throughout the entire ordeal, from the date of the injury until the lawsuit is resolved. It may sound morbid, but some photographs of an injury or accident scene can be potent tools in an injury case.
Filing a Lawsuit
The Oklahoma statute of limitations protects people from being sued for very old injuries, after evidence has disappeared and memories have faded. For personal injury lawsuits, the statute of limitations for filing is two years from the day that the injuries were suffered or discovered. If you do not file your lawsuit within two years of the injury, you will be forever unable to recover regardless of the strength of your case.
You will most likely file your lawsuit at the Tulsa County District Court. If you are claiming damages of $6,000 or less, you may file in the small claims division for informal and inexpensive procedures. To file a lawsuit you must draft a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis of your lawsuit. A complaint should be brief and plainly worded, but it has to be specific enough to show that you would win the case.
Types of Injury Lawsuits
Most personal injury lawsuits will be based on a negligence claim, where you must prove that the other party failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and this failure caused your injury. Oklahoma has adopted a comparative negligence rule for assigning fault in negligence cases. Under Oklahoma law, fault is assigned to each party and damages are reduced in proportion to your relative 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.
In cases involving death, the surviving family members may be able to recover damages in a wrongful death suit. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship and funeral expenses.
A medical malpractice lawsuit is used to address injuries caused as a result of improper treatment by healthcare professionals. For example a doctor could misdiagnose an injury, fail to provide appropriate treatment or unreasonably delay treatment. Oklahoma imposes a $300,000 upper limit on damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases. However, this limit does not apply in wrongful death suits, or where the defendant injured someone on purpose.
Workplace injuries such as slips and falls, back or neck injuries or carpal tunnel are far too common. Generally, every employee (excluding independent contractors) hired in Oklahoma or who is injured in Oklahoma is covered by the workers' compensation laws of the state. Worker's compensation is like insurance, so you can receive compensation without filing a lawsuit. You must report your injury within 30 days of the incident or you could forfeit the benefits. Also, if your employer illegally fails to maintain worker's compensation coverage, you could file a lawsuit in either the Tulsa District Court or in the specialized Workers' Compensation Court in Oklahoma City.
Types of Damages
Damages are traditionally divided into economic damages and noneconomic damages. The most common types of noneconomic damages in personal injury cases are "pain and suffering" and punitive damages. Pain and suffering damages compensate you for the mental and physical distress you suffer as a result of the injury.
Economic damages are designed to compensate you for monetary losses, such as:
- past and future medical expenses;
- loss of past and future income;
- loss of use of property;
- costs of repair or replacement; and
- loss of employment opportunities.
In personal injury cases the most obvious economic damage will be medical bills, but print out our damages worksheet to make sure nothing is overlooked. Alternatively, you may want to speak with an experience personal injury attorney who can draft the papers to initiate a lawsuit, gather the proper evidence and negotiate a settlement with the opposing party on your behalf.
Punitive damages are designed to punish defendants for bad behavior and deter others from engaging in similar bad acts. Oklahoma law caps punitive damages at $100,000 for negligent conduct, but this cap increases to $500,000 if you can prove the other party purposefully caused the injury.
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