Your Columbia Personal Injury Case: The Basics
It's easy to relax in the languid, lazy, hazy days of Southern living in Columbia, SC. The zoo, the river, and Columbia's many restaurants and shopping districts provide ample opportunity to relax and unwind. But, accidents happen, people get hurt, and when they do, you may need to go to court in a personal injury suit. This article has the basics you need to know about a personal injury lawsuit in Columbia.
There is No One Type of Personal Injury Case
Personal injury is actually an umbrella term that encompasses many different areas of law. Most lawyers choose to specialize in only one category, since the laws for determining fault can vary from category to category. The one thing all these areas of law have in common is that they are all resolved through the civil litigation system. Personal injury cases include:
- Automobile accidents;
- Slip and falls;
- Product liability, including unsafe food, and defective household products and automobiles;
- Medical malpractice;
- Dog bites and animal attacks;
- Disputes stemming from a physical altercation, like assault and battery;
- Cases where there is no physical injury, like defamation; and
- Some workplace accidents.
First Steps after an Accident
The first steps after an injury that might lead to a lawsuit are the same no matter what kind of accident you have: 1) if necessary, go see a doctor; 2) contact your insurance company to file a claim; and 3) document what happened so you can remember it later.
Seeking medical attention should be an obvious first step. Regardless of how your legal claim turns out, you want to stay as healthy as possible and delaying medical attention could make an injury worse. Promptly seeing a doctor may even help your legal claim by creating a record of your injuries. If you were involved in a car accident that caused over $1,000 in damages, you also need to alert the police, either by calling them from the scene or by filing a form within 15 days of the collision.
Automobile accidents are covered by one or both drivers' automobile insurance, and many accidents that happen in and around the home are covered by homeowners' insurance. Some business owners may also have insurance policies that cover workplace accidents. These policies will typically reimburse you for the damage your sustained in the accident, and if someone decides to sue you, may pay for a lawyer for your defense. Be sure to file a claim as soon as possible so you do not miss the deadline for filing a claim.
The accident may seem so traumatic that it will stay in your memory forever, but many people involved in an accident are surprised at how many details are forgotten even a few days later. Take notes about what happened as soon as possible after the incident while the memories are fresh. Photograph anything that seems relevant - injuries, the scene of the accident, property damage - anything you can think of. Witness accounts may be helpful later, so get the name and contact information of anyone involved in the accident, or anyone who happened to see it. Some kinds of written documentation can be very valuable in a lawsuit, so be sure to get and keep copies of any official records: police reports, medical records, insurance paperwork, and even correspondence.
Consult with a lawyer as soon as possible after your accident if you think you might want to sue someone. You do not want to miss your opportunity to file suit because of South Carolina's statutes of limitations, which are time limits on when you can bring a suit. If you are suing someone else, you are known as the "plaintiff." Be sure to look for plaintiffs' attorneys who specialize in the type of accident that caused your injury in the Columbia area. These kinds of lawyers can spend less time and money on your case because they may handle many cases exactly like yours each year, and know the ins and outs of local law. Plaintiffs' attorneys often operate on contingency fees, which means they will get a portion of whatever award you get at trial or in settlement.
Product liability cases - in other words, cases in which you bought a product which injured you even though you used the product correctly - often have many plaintiffs across the nation suing the same company over the same issue. Your local lawyer may be able to connect you with these other resources so that you can sue as a class.
If you are being sued, the legal world knows you as the "defendant." If your insurance company will not provide a lawyer for you, you will most likely pay your attorney an hourly fee for handling your case.
Early Stages of a Case: Discovery and Settlement Negotiations
The first thing your lawyer is likely to do is investigate your case. You can help your attorney by giving her copies of all the notes, photos, and documents you saved from right after the accident. Your lawyer will probably exchange some of these documents with the opposing side in a process called discovery.
Once your attorney has enough information, she will start to offer settlement deals to the defendant and the insurance company. Meanwhile, she may begin to file the complaint and other pleadings or pretrial motions to ensure that you don't lose your chance to be in court.
The case will go to trial if no settlement can be reached. Civil cases are heard in the Richland County Judicial Center. How long your trial lasts depends on how complicated your case is - in general, trials can last anywhere from a day to several weeks.
If the judge or jury rules for the plaintiff, the plaintiff will get a monetary award. However, this does not mean all the money goes straight to the plaintiff. First, the lawyer will take her share. Then, the plaintiff's health, auto, and homeowners' insurance will try to take some of the award as compensation on the claims they have already paid out.
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.