Your Pittsburgh Personal Injury Case: The Basics
It's a typical cold February evening in "The Steel City." There's ice on the ground and a blistering chill in the air. You're in the parking lot of your local market ready to buy weekly provisions. As you are walk through the dimly lit lot towards the entrance you slip on the ice and tumble to the ground. Pain shoots through your body as you've injured your shoulder. Paramedics are called and transport you to Allegheny General Hospital where the doctor says you are going to need surgery. You'll have to miss work and that family ski trip you planned months ago. What next? Do you have legal options? Here's some information to help guide you through the process of a potential personal injury case in Pittsburgh.
What to do first?
Seek medical attention. Your health should always come first and foremost. Try not to minimize any pain or suffering you're feeling. Be completely honest with your doctor and explain how the injury happened.
Next, you may wonder if you have a case after you're injured, but how do you know for sure? There are a number of things to think about in Pennsylvania to preserve your right to a make a claim.
Pennsylvania's Negligence Laws: How much does "fault" matter?
In order to win your case, you must prove the defendant was negligent or "at fault" for your injuries. There are a number of different ways to prove fault. It will depend on the particular circumstances.
However, your own actions may affect your ability to recover damages. In Pennsylvania that's called "comparative negligence." Don't let the name intimidate you. It's possible that both you and the defendant were responsible for the accident. But you are barred from collecting any damages from the defendant if it is determined that you are more than 50 percent negligent/at fault. Otherwise, if you are found less than 51 percent, your final award is reduced by your percentage of fault.
Sometimes more than one person may be at fault for an accident. Under Pennsylvania's Fair Share Act, if two or more parties are found liable for a victim's injuries, the law states that each defendant is responsible for only their share of the fault.
So if you are suing two defendants, A and B, and A is 99 percent at fault and B the other 1 percent at fault, instead of both being liable for the full recovery amount, Defendant B is only liable 1 percent of the damages awarded to the victim, not the entire amount.
The Course of a Pittsburgh Personal Injury Case
- Someone's negligence causes an injury.
- A complaint is filed and served by the plaintiff.
- The defendant may be required to file an answer.
- Both sides gather evidence.
- A pre-trial conference takes place between judge and the attorneys to discuss possible settlement. You may also be able to hire a mediator and settle out of court.
- If there isn't a settlement, trial takes place and a verdict is rendered.
- Either party can appeal the decision to appellate courts.
What kind of damages can I collect?
There are several types of injuries for which a person can collect damages. The most common type is physical injuries, which include direct trauma to the body. A victim may be to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages (past, present and future), pain and suffering, loss of life's pleasures, scarring and disfigurement, and loss of consortium. Mental and emotional injuries can also be compensable. A victim may also collect money for property damages including damages to cars, houses or other personal property.
Punitive damages usually are sought only if the defendant was grossly reckless or intended to injure the plaintiff. These damages are awarded as punishment to make sure the defendant won't commit the act again.
How long do I have to file a complaint?
The standard time limit for a personal injury claim in Pennsylvania is two years from the date of the incident causing the harm. There are some exceptions for minors, mentally impaired persons, and military. Remember, even if you have a legitimate claim you may be unable to ever receive compensation for an accident if you are late in filing.
How can I protect my rights?
- Keep a journal and calendar: As soon as possible after the accident write down every important detail you can, including the harm that resulted and its effect on your daily life. Continue to keep notes as your claim progresses and keep track of dates including medical appointments.
- Report the accident: Report the accident to the police, your insurance company or, in some circumstances, the person/entity you believe is responsible and get his or her name and address. If you are contacted by the insurance company which represents the responsible person, remember that it is best not to give the company a statement without first contacting a lawyer.
- Preserve the evidence: Evidence is the strongest link to winning personal injury cases. Take photos or videos from all angles at the accident scene and of the damages suffered. If injured, consider taking photographs periodically of the injuries.
- Obtain medical records: The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gives you the right to obtain a copy of your medical records from any medical provider.
- Gather the necessary information. Obtain police reports and the identity of any witnesses (name, address, phone number).
If you aren't sure what to do, a trained legal professional may be able to help. Lawyers take personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you do not pay for the costs of a case or pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. A settlement of your case is considered a "win" and your attorney will most likely be entitled to collect their fees.
If you do decide to sue, your lawyer will provide details about where and when to appear in court. Usually the case is filed in the county where the injury happened. Here's where you will appear for Allegheny County:
Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas: This court hears all civil actions in which the controversy exceeds $8,000.
Pittsburgh Municipal Court: This is the small claims court hearing all civil matters under $8,000.
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.