Imagine you find yourself in the emergency room at one of the Erlanger Hospitals. Your first thoughts should be about your health. You might also ask: "If I'm hurt, how am I going to support my family?" Other questions might include: "How did this happen and who's paying for it?"
It's natural to feel uncomfortable with the uncertainties surrounding a personal injury. FindLaw hopes to answer some of the questions you may have. This guide will provide a quick summary of the law and some of what you can expect if you have to pursue or defend against a lawsuit.
Statute of Limitations
If you plan on filing suit in Chattanooga, one of the first things you need to know is whether there are time limits for doing so. Those time limits are known as the "statute of limitations." Throughout Tennessee, the statute of limitations is generally one year, which is a shorter time limit than most other states impose. This means that you should not wait long after an injury to talk to a lawyer about getting your case started. Along the same lines, if you are worried about defending against a suit, you may have some peace of mind after a year passes.
Courts and Remedies
Before you go talking to a lawyer, you should have some knowledge of Chattanooga Courts. This knowledge will help you have an informed conversation and possibly keep down the cost of litigation.
Your case will proceed in court mostly according to what you are asking for from the court. In personal injury plaintiffs -- you in this case -- typically ask for money damages to compensate them for their injuries. These include medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for pain, suffering, and humiliation.
In Chattanooga and Hamilton County, the Court of General Sessions and Circuit Court both have the power to hear civil cases. General Sessions, however, cannot hear an injury case with over $25,000 at issue. If your injury is significant, the available damages can quickly exceed the General Sessions limit. For more information, see FindLaw's article on Chattanooga courthouses.
Talking to a Lawyer
Injured parties may want to talk to attorneys that specialize in representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases. These specialists often take cases on a contingent fee basis. This means that the attorney's pay depends upon the amount you recover in a settlement or in a judgment. If you are hurt and lacking in cash at the moment, consider asking an attorney if he/she works on a contingent fee basis. If so, the lawyer is required to explain how the fees will be calculated in the future and whether any part of the fees must be paid regardless of the outcome of your case. For more rules on attorney fees, see Rule 1.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Parties that are defending a suit may also require an attorney. In many cases, legal fees for a defendant may be covered by homeowner's insurance or car insurance. If someone is suing you, be sure to contact your insurer and review your policy as soon as possible.
The Merits of Your Case
Many of the state's personal injury cases arise out of alleged negligence. If you've been hurt, you may have to show that the other party failed to be as careful as the law requires. Tennessee features a modified comparative fault law. Generally, a plaintiff may only recover if his/her negligence is less than the defendant's negligence. Whether a plaintiff's negligence does in fact outweigh the defendant's negligence is a question for a jury to decide.
Other types of personal injury cases will depend on whether a plaintiff can show either that: (1) the defendant engaged in intentionally bad conduct, (2) the defendant sold or made a defective or dangerous consumer product, or (3) the defendant engaged in an activity for which he/she would be liable -- no matter what -- for any harm that occurred.
The laws surrounding workplace injuries are unique. For starters, Workers' Compensation insurance is the typical method for legal recovery. Rather than suing your employer in court, you must report your injury to a supervisor within 30 days of injury or within 30 days of a doctor's telling you that your injury is work-related. See the Beginner's Guide to Tennessee Workers' Compensation (PDF) for a brief rundown of what you need to know when you've been injured on the job.
As you'd imagine, traffic accidents are a frequent cause of personal injuries. Tennessee has a "fault" system of handling collisions, so it is generally good to notify your insurer of any collision. Never admit fault, and see a physician about any injuries as soon as possible. It is always best to document all expenses and details about the incident. See FindLaw's section on car accidents for more general information on the subject.
Contact a qualified attorney.