Each year, Americans go to the emergency room approximately 30 million times to seek treatment for accidental injuries. Accidents are a fact of life and happen to all of us at some time. But what happens if your accident was caused by another person?
In New Jersey, if you are hurt because of something that someone else did or failed to do, you could file a personal injury lawsuit against them. Through this type of claim, you may be able to recover compensation for your full range of losses, including property damage, medical expenses, future medical treatment, emotional distress, and more.
Insurance companies often vigorously defend against personal injury claims, seeking to deny or minimize your compensation in order to boost their own profits. A skilled New Jersey personal injury lawyer can help you get the compensation that you are entitled to under the law, starting with a free initial consultation.
What Is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Personal injury is an area of law that deals with what happens when someone is hurt through the action — or inaction — of another person. A personal injury lawsuit involves filing a claim against the responsible party (defendant) in order to recover financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses.
Personal injury claims can arise in any number of ways. They are typically based on a theory of negligence, which is the failure to use the care that a reasonable person would in a similar situation.
Common examples of personal injury cases include:
- Car accidents
- Dog bites
- Pedestrian accidents
- Slip and falls (premises liability)
- Truck accidents
- Dangerous and defective products (products liability)
- Bus accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
When a person dies as a result of an accident, their loved ones may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This type of claim allows certain family members to recover for their losses associated with a personal injury, such as the loss of financial support that their loved one would have provided.
Who Is Responsible in a New Jersey Personal Injury Case?
Most personal injury cases are based on a theory of negligence. To prove that someone was negligent, you must demonstrate four things:
- Duty: the defendant owed the victim (plaintiff) a duty of care;
- Breach: the defendant breached, or violated, that duty of care;
- Causation: the defendant’s breach was the proximate or but for cause of the accident; and
- Damages: the plaintiff suffered damages as a result.
For example, New Jersey drivers have a general duty to use reasonable care when operating a motor vehicle and to obey traffic laws. If a person drives drunk, they have violated that duty of care. If this violation caused an accident, and a person was hurt as a result, they could be held financially responsible.
Many personal injury claims are relatively straightforward; it is clear to see who was at fault for an accident. However, in other situations, more than one person may be to blame for an accident. An injury victim can still recover for these losses, provided that their share of the fault is less than the defendant’s. In cases where more than one person may have been responsible for an accident, a jury will assign a percentage of fault to each person.
Under the principle of contributory negligence, a person who is injured in an accident can still recover for their losses as long as their share of the fault is less than the other party’s share. As long as you are 50% or less at fault, then you can still recover. However, your total recovery will be reduced by the percentage that you were at fault. For example, if you were found to be 30% at fault in a car accident case and you suffered $100,000 in damages, then your recovery would be reduced by 30%, or $30,000, to $70,000.
While most personal injury cases are based on a theory of negligence, there are some exceptions for specific types of cases. Product liability cases, which are a type of claim that can be brought when someone is injured by a dangerous or defective product, are determined based on strict liability.
Under the New Jersey Product Liability Act, you do not have to prove that a manufacturer, distributor, or retailer of a dangerous or defective product was negligent in order to recover. Instead, if you can show that the product was not reasonably safe or fit for its intended purpose, then the defendant will be held liable for your losses.
What Kind of Damages Can I Recover in a Personal Injury Case?
Each personal injury claim is different. The exact type and amount of financial compensation that you will recover will be based on a number of factors, such as the nature and severity of your injury and if you can prove that the other party was at fault.
Generally, there are three types of damages available in a personal injury case: economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. Economic and non-economic damages are compensatory, which means that they are meant to compensate a person for their losses. By contrast, punitive damages are meant to punish wrongdoers and deter others from engaging in similar conduct.
Economic damages cover losses that are more tangible in nature. They may include items such as property damage, medical bills, future medical treatment, lost wages, and reduced earning capacity. Evidence like pay stubs and invoices are often used to prove this type of damages.
Non-economic damages address intangible losses, such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, scarring, and disfigurement. These types of losses can be harder to prove, as you can’t simply submit a bill for the emotional trauma that you have endured as a result of an accident. A seasoned New Jersey personal injury attorney can use their experience and knowledge of similar cases to put together a claim for non-economic damages.
Punitive damages are rarely awarded in personal injury cases, as they require proof that the defendant engaged in reckless or intentional conduct. However, there are situations where punitive damages may be appropriate in personal injury cases, such as where a manufacturer ignores warnings that their product may be dangerous and continues to sell it without making adaptations.
How Long Do I Have to File a Personal Injury Case?
In New Jersey, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury case is two years. This means that you have two years from the date of your injury to file a lawsuit. If you fail to do so, then your claim will be barred.
There are some exceptions to this general rule. First, for certain types of cases where an injury may not be discovered right away, such as medical malpractice, the statute of limitations begins to run when a person knows or should have known about the injury.
Second, if the injury victim was under the age of 18 or suffered from a disability at the time of the accident that prevented them from taking action, then the statute of limitations begins to run once that person turns 18 or is no longer incapacitated. Third, if the responsible party leaves the state of New Jersey so that the injured person cannot find them, then the statute of limitations will not run during the time that they are gone.
Do I Really Need a Lawyer for My Personal Injury Case?
As with many legal questions, the answer is: it depends. If your injuries and losses are relatively small, you may be able to handle your claim without an attorney. However, doing so presents a risk that you will accept a lowball settlement offer and give up important rights in the process.
According to a study by the Insurance Research Council, people who are represented by a lawyer in a personal injury case settle their cases for 3.5 times more than people who represent themselves. In 85% of cases where the insurance company settles a claim, the injury victim was represented by an attorney.
A New Jersey personal injury attorney can investigate and evaluate every aspect of your case to make sure that every possible responsible party is brought into the claim. From there, they will advocate for your right to compensation, helping you get the highest possible recovery. While you can represent yourself in a personal injury case, it may lead to a much lower settlement than you would have gotten with a lawyer — or no settlement at all.
Will My Personal Injury Case Go to Trial?
The vast majority of personal injury claims settle without anyone ever setting foot in a courtroom. Typically, your case will only go to trial if the insurance company is unwilling to make a fair offer or if there is a significant issue in dispute.
Personal injury cases start with a demand letter to the insurance company. In this letter, your attorney will set out the facts of the case, the legal reasons why their insured is liable, and a demand for damages. This starts the negotiation process, where each side will make offers and counteroffers.
If the parties cannot come to an agreement, then your lawyer may recommend filing a lawsuit. Even after a lawsuit is filed, the negotiation process usually continues — even up until the morning of trial. If the case does not settle, then your lawyer will present a strong case to the judge or jury as to why you deserve compensation for your injuries.
Having an experienced New Jersey personal injury attorney can help you achieve a settlement. When the insurance company knows that your lawyer knows the law and is willing to go to trial over your claim, they may be more likely to offer you a settlement that truly reflects your losses.
Hurt in an Accident? Reach Out Today.
After being in an accident, you may be overwhelmed by stress, pain, and worry about mounting bills. A personal injury lawsuit won’t make you whole again — but it can get you the money that you need to recover and move forward with your life.
At Bross and Frankel, we are committed to helping people throughout New Jersey who have been injured in all types of accidents. With decades of combined experience helping injured workers and people with disabilities, our certified civil trial attorney and team know how to get results. To learn more or to schedule a free case evaluation, contact us today at 856-795-8880 or fill out our online contact form.