Personal injury law is one of the most common practice areas in all of legal practice. A personal injury claim arises when one person suffers an injury that another person bears legal responsibility for. Typically, the defendant was at fault for the accident, but not always.
The following questions and answers on personal injury law cover a number of important topics related to the field.
How much do personal injury attorneys charge?
Personal injury attorneys generally charge based on a contingency fee system rather than billable hours. Under the contingency fee system, your legal fees equal a pre-agreed percentage of your compensation. This percentage typically ranges from 25% to 40%, with an average of about 33%. The percentage is typically higher if you go to trial and lower if you settle out of court.
Should I file a lawsuit or settle out of court?
The vast majority of personal injury claims are resolved out of court through private settlement. You may have to file a lawsuit, however, to beat the statute of limitations or to prod the defendant to offer a reasonable settlement. Judges tend to encourage settlement in the midst of litigation. So if you do end up filing a lawsuit, the chances are fairly high that your case will still be settled privately, on the condition that you withdraw the lawsuit.
What is a deposition?
A deposition is a formal, out-of-court proceeding in which a party’s lawyer will ask questions of witnesses that must be answered under oath. This means that the state can charge a witness with perjury for knowingly giving a false answer.
Parties conduct depositions for two main purposes – (i) to gather information in preparation for trial or settlement and (ii) to provide the basis for discrediting a witness who gives inconsistent answers at the deposition and in court.
What is the pretrial discovery process?
The pretrial discovery process is an evidence-gathering procedure that you engage in after filing a lawsuit. Since it is part of a lawsuit, you can seek help from the court if the defendant refuses to cooperate. The discovery process offers you four legal weapons:
- Depositions (see above): Out-of-court (but under oath) cross-examination of hostile witnesses.
- Interrogatories: Written questions that the defendant must answer in writing and under oath.
- Demands for production: You can demand that the defendant allow you to copy documents and inspect physical evidence that is in the defendant’s possession.
- Requests for admissions: You can ask the defendant to admit a fact that you don’t want to bother proving in court. You might ask the defendant to confirm the authenticity of a document, for example.
Remember, the defendant also has access to all of these legal weapons, and they can use them against you.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
In Missouri, the general statute of limitations in personal injury law is five years. That means that, by default, you’ll have five years from the date you sustained your injuries to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. However, there are many exceptions to this deadline. An attorney can help you confirm when you need to file your lawsuit by in your particular case.
What is “negligence”?
Negligence means something like “carelessness.” To win a negligence claim, you must prove each of the following four claims:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care;
- The defendant breached their duty of care to you;
- You suffered damages; and
- The defendant’s breach of duty actually caused the damages you suffered.
You will lose your claim if you fail to prove even one of the foregoing claims.
Do I have to prove my case “beyond a reasonable doubt”?
No, you don’t. The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applies to criminal prosecutions, not personal injury lawsuits. The applicable standard for most personal injury lawsuits is “a preponderance of the evidence,” which means “more likely than not” in plain English.
If you decide to seek punitive damages, however, you will have to prove your case by “clear and convincing evidence.” This is a tougher standard to prove than “more likely than not,” but it’s easier than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Can I file a personal injury claim if someone intentionally assaulted me?
Yes, you can, and you might even be able to win a higher damages award. The problem is that very few insurance policies cover intentional assaults. Other options may be available, such as suing the defendant’s employer if the assault happened while your perpetrator was on the job.
Can I still collect damages if the accident was partly my fault?
Under Missouri’s pure comparative fault system, you can recover from the other party even if the accident was mostly your fault. You would recover an amount equal to the other party’s degree of fault. You’d recover 25 percent of your losses, for example, if the other party was 25 percent at fault.
Can I still win an auto accident injury case if I wasn’t wearing a seat belt?
Yes, but you might lose money that way. Under Missouri’s comparative fault system, you are considered responsible for that portion of damages that is equal to your own degree of fault. A court will consider your failure to wear a seat belt as partial fault for your own injuries, and it will assign a percentage of fault accordingly.
What if I was harmed by a defective drug?
Remember that a lawsuit over a defective drug is probably a product liability lawsuit, not a medical malpractice lawsuit. Although you can file a product liability lawsuit, you are likely to have to sue a different party and prove different facts to win. Of course, you may have grounds to sue your doctor for medical malpractice as well if they negligently prescribed the drug to you.
Large or Complex Claims Almost Always Require the Assistance of a St. Louis Personal Injury Lawyer
You might not need a lawyer if you suffer a minor “fender bender” in a car accident. If someone dies in an accident, however, you will definitely need legal assistance. Between these two extremes lies a gray area where you might not be certain whether you need a lawyer. Err on the side of caution by scheduling a free initial consultation with a reputable St. Louis personal injury lawyer.