Personal injuries can be serious but determining whether you are eligible to file a claim and then filing one can be confusing. We provide answers to some of our client's most common questions. It is always important, however -- since all cases are unique -- to contact a smart, experienced personal injury attorney in Fort Lee, New Jersey, for a free initial consultation. Doing so will allow you to get answers to some of your more specific questions.
What is a New Jersey personal injury case?
Personal injury falls under a category of civil claims also known as torts. A person who has been injured as a result of another person or entity's negligence/wrongdoing may sue in civil court for damages. Some of the most common personal injury claims include the following:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Slip-and-fall accidents (also known as premises liability claims)
- Dog bite injuries
- Assault and battery
- Wrongful death
Do I have a personal injury claim in New Jersey?
Whether or not you have a right to sue for damages is highly specific to the facts of your particular case. To be liable for an accident due to negligence, a defendant must have a duty to act with reasonable care and must have breached that duty, and the plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant's acts or negligence were the proximate cause of their injuries. Proximate cause means that the defendant's actions are sufficiently related to the plaintiff's injuries that they are deemed the cause of those injuries.
The plaintiff in a personal injury case must also be able to prove damages. Typically, this evidence is introduced in the form of medical records, medical bills, and testimony from the plaintiff and experts and other witnesses.
What is the process for filing a personal injury case?
To file a case in civil court, the plaintiff must file a complaint and have it served on the defendant along with a summons. If the defendant is an individual, the individual must be served in accordance with state rules regarding service of process. For personal service, a process server can deliver the complaint and summons to the defendant at his or her residence. A person may also be personally served at their workplace. If the defendant is a business, the registered agent for the business may be served. If the defendant fails to answer the complaint within the time frame required by law; default may be entered against the defendant.
After the complaint and answer are filed, the parties exchange information in a process known as discovery. Parties may request information through interrogatories, requests for admissions and depositions. Interrogatories and requests for admission are written documents that require responses while a deposition is an out-of-court question and answer examination.
In some cases, it may be possible to settle a case prior to filing a lawsuit through negotiation with the defendant's insurance company. An attorney may be able to request a settlement offer by sending a demand letter to the insurance company. Demand letters may be accompanied with evidence that the attorney anticipates will be introduced at trial -- like police reports, medical records, and bills.
What if I was partially at fault for an accident?
At one time, many states barred recovery if a plaintiff was at fault -- even if by only one percent -- for an accident. This is a doctrine known as contributory negligence. Most states, including New Jersey, have now adopted comparative fault statutes. The comparative fault statute in New Jersey allows plaintiffs to recover damages if they were not more than 50 percent at fault for an accident. However, comparative fault may be used as a defense strategy because the plaintiff's award of damages may be reduced by the percentage that he or she is deemed at fault for the accident.
What if more than one person or business was responsible for an accident?
It is common for plaintiffs to sue more than one defendant. For example, a motor vehicle accident may be caused both by the negligence of human drivers as well as manufacturing defects in vehicles. In this type of case, a plaintiff may be able to sue the driver who was negligent as well as any other responsible parties such as the vehicle manufacturer and distributor. Multiple defendants may be sued pursuant to a doctrine known as joint and several liability.
Some defendants may also be held vicariously liable for a personal injury accident. For example, in a trucking accident, the business that employed the truck driver may be held liable if the driver was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred. Business owners are not generally liable for intentional acts of their employees like an employee's assault on another person.
Can I file a lawsuit on behalf of my child or spouse?
Personal injury claims are normally filed by the person who was actually injured in the accident. State statutes allow some other parties to sue in certain situations:
- If it is a wrongful death claim, estate beneficiaries may be able to sue on behalf of the deceased person.
- If the victim is a child, then a parent or legal guardian can sue on behalf of the child.
- If the victim is a spouse who has been injured or killed, the spouse (or surviving spouse) may be able to file a separate lawsuit for “loss of consortium” or the loss of companionship.
If your child has been injured as a result of an injury on another person's property, you may be able to sue the property owner based on a legal doctrine known as “attractive nuisance.” An attractive nuisance is a condition on land that the property owner knew or should have known could be dangerous to children (e.g., a pool or playground equipment) and where the owner also knew or should have known children were likely to trespass.
Do I need an attorney, or should I settle this case on my own?
It is very difficult to know what your case is worth without seeking advice from a personal injury attorney. An insurance company may try to get you to settle your case for much less than it is worth. Civil litigation comes with strict procedural requirements, and failure to comply with a rule or timeline for filing the case can result in dismissal. An attorney can ensure that you are treated fairly by the defendant's insurance company and work to get you the most compensation possible.
How much is my case worth?
How much your case is worth depends on many factors. The compensation in a personal injury case is intended to be enough so that the plaintiff can be “made whole” or be put in the same position that he or she was in before the accident occurred. In a typical car accident case, the amount that you will be awarded in damages includes compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering. If you suffered a permanent injury, you may be awarded compensation for future losses, like the expected costs of future rehabilitation, loss of future enjoyment of life, and future lost wages.
What should I do after a personal injury accident?
After a personal injury accident, the most important first step is to seek immediate medical treatment. If your case involves a motor vehicle accident, you should contact the police to file a report and request contact information from any witnesses. If your case involved an accident at a business, e.g, a slip-and-fall case, you should request to make a report with a manager. This type of documentation can be important later to verify your claim and can also help preserve important evidence -- like witness information and recordings, if available.
You should make sure that you document any losses that you have suffered as a result of your personal injury case and always follow up on medical care if you are experiencing pain from an accident. You can present testimony about how an accident has affected you, but it is also important to be able to present medical records and testimony from your medical providers about how the accident has affected you. You may also want to request a letter from your employer regarding your rate of pay and how many days of work you have missed as a result of injuries from the accident.
If you experience pain as a result of your injuries, it is a good idea to keep a log of how your injuries affect your daily life and the level of pain you are experiencing each day. This can be useful if you need to testify about your recovery from the incident later on.
Aggressive, Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys in New Jersey
If you have questions about filing a personal injury claim in New Jersey, contact an experienced attorney right away. Contact Kim & Feliz, LLC by filling out our online form or by calling us at (201) 585-2250.