In Case Of Injury ... Continued

In most instances, people other than just the injured person may be entitled to compensation. Your spouse can also bring a loss of consortium action seeking compensation for the loss of your services. Dependent relatives can sue for the loss of support of a deceased breadwinner.  An estate can sue for the deceased person’s pain and suffering. Sometimes family members who witness a grizzly accident can sue for emotional distress. Parents can seek expenses incurred in caring for an injured child.

The law contains deadlines in which lawsuits must be started, which are known as statutes of limitations. If you fail to start your lawsuit before the expiration or running of the statute of limitations, then, you lose your right to sue.  Different statutes of limitations apply to different types of cases.  Some statutes of limitations can be as little as a few months and others can be two years or more. As soon as you are injured, you should learn the statute of limitations in your particular case. This is especially important if you are uncertain as to whether or not you may choose to bring a lawsuit, as you need to know how much time you have in which to make that important decision.

            Very few injury cases actually go to trial. Most cases settle before trial.  Some cases settle before it is necessary to start a lawsuit. Other cases settle after a lawsuit is started and before the case goes to trial. Insurance companies will often try to settle cases very early on (before you may have had time to experience complications). It is always advisable for you to consult with an attorney before accepting a settlement.

Attorneys often take injury cases on a contingent fee basis, where the attorney does not get paid a legal fee until the case is settled or won.  The attorney then receives a percentage of the verdict or settlement.  The percentage that the attorney receives may vary from case to case depending on the amount of work involved. Because of strict legal requirements, regardless whether you win or lose your case, you will normally be responsible for the out of pocket expenses of your case. Typical out of pocket expenses that you would pay are as court filing fees, expert witness fees, deposition transcripts, photocopying costs, postage, long-distance telephone calls, etc. Some attorneys will ask you to pay these expenses as they arise. Other attorneys will pay them and ask to be reimbursed later (sometimes at the end of your case).  Pennsylvania law requires attorneys to have written fee agreements with clients in almost all types of cases. Written fee agreements are always required in contingent fee cases.

            In Pennsylvania, work-related injuries are covered by Workers’ Compensation.  You cannot sue your employer separately.  In order to be paid for a work-related injury you must file a Workers’ Compensation claim with your employer. If your employer does not pay you fully, then you must bring your action through the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.  You have a right to be represented by an attorney of your choosing in a Workers’ Compensation action. When you win your case, the Workers’ Compensation Judge will give your attorney a percentage of your award (usually 20%) as attorney’s fees. Before your attorney can be paid in a Workers’ Compensation case, both you and the Judge must approve the payment.

            Pennsylvania’s law regarding motor vehicle accidents is quite complicated. Pennsylvania law requires all vehicles to be insured.  If you are injured in a vehicle accident, your own insurance pays for your injuries (up to the limits of that insurance), through what is called first party benefits. Your own insurance pays your medical bills regardless of whether the accident is your fault or the fault of someone else.  Even if you were a passenger, you still submit your medical bills to your own automobile insurance company first.
Assuming that you have not limited your right to sue (this is discussed below), you may bring an action against the responsible driver(s) for any damages which were not covered by your own insurance. In order to win a lawsuit against another driver, you must prove that the other driver was negligent and that his or her negligence caused the accident that resulted in your injuries. Frequently, accidents can be the result of the negligence of more than one driver.  You can collect from the other driver even if you were partially responsible for the accident, so long as the accident was less than 50% your fault. Passengers are seldom responsible for an accident.  In the action against the other driver(s), you can ask for payment of past and future economic damages, including: Medical and chiropractic expenses that were not covered by your own insurance, uncompensated lost wages, replacement services (such as housekeeping, baby-sitting, lawn care), etc. You can also seek compensation for non-economic damages, such as: Past and future pain and suffering, emotional distress, and disfigurement
            In Pennsylvania, the type of vehicle insurance selected by you determines when and how you may sue.  If you select the Full Tort option, then you may sue for any injury (no matter how small).  If you select the cheaper Limited Tort option, then, you may only sue for non-economic damages when your injury is serious. The law defines Serious Injury as, "a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement."  Courts will let the jury decide whether the injury is serious. Many injuries, such as broken bones, may be very painful and disabling yet they may not be commonly considered serious. A significant number of Limited Tort cases have proceeded all the way through trial, only to have the jury dismiss the case with a finding that the injury is not serious. For this reason, many attorneys refuse to take Limited Tort cases.    The saving for electing the Limited Tort option is quite small and, Full Tort coverage is always preferable. Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist pay non-economic damages when the other driver has little or no insurance and are definitely worth including on your policy. Savings can be obtained, with much less risk, by raising your collision deductible or by dropping your towing coverage instead of by skipping these important coverages.

            Injuries can occur in numerous other ways.  People slip on icy sidewalks or slippery supermarket floors. They are often injured by faulty products or malfunctioning equipment. Animals can injure people. Sometimes, people are injured by other people. Most injuries are unfortunate accidents; however, injuries can sometimes be intentional. The ways in which such injuries can occur are endless and your legal rights are different in each situation. This article cannot attempt to discuss your rights in all instances. The information set forth in the block should be helpful to you in most injury situations:



    • SEEK PROMPT ATTENTION FOR INJURIES. Of course, with any injury, the most important priority is always to seek appropriate emergency care for the injury. In the case of a serious or potentially life-threatening injury, all other matters can and should wait until your condition is stabilized. Any time that you sustain an injury (even a minor injury) at work or as the result of the fault of another person, you should always seek prompt professional attention. This documents the injury.  If you need more attention later, you will have much less difficulty getting your bills paid when the injury was documented at the time it occurred. Continue with appropriate attention until your injuries are fully healed.  Follow all doctors’ orders, keep all appointments, take prescribed medicines, observe your doctor’s restrictions. Not only will this advice maximize your recovery; it will also improve your chances in court. Insurance companies love to argue that you made your own condition worse by not taking proper care of the injury.
    • REPORT THE INJURY IMMEDIATELY.  If you are injured at work, immediately report the injury to your employer.  If you are injured on another person’s property, immediately report the injury to the owner of the premises and obtain the owner’s insurance information.  If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident, report the accident to the police before you leave the accident scene and before you remove the vehicles from the scene. Be certain that the police officer files a report of the accident and that you know how to obtain a copy of the police report. Unless you are very seriously injured and transported by ambulance, do not leave the accident scene without obtaining the name, address and insurance and vehicle information for the other driver(s).  As soon as the police have finished their investigation of the accident and as soon as you have received appropriate emergency care, report the vehicle accident to your own insurance company. Most insurance policies (of all varieties) contain provisions that the company does not need to pay claims that are reported late. Be certain to report the claim within the time provided by your own policy.
    • DOCUMENT EVENTS AND PRESERVE EVIDENCE.   Cases of all varieties often take several years to get to court. Memories can fade and evidence can be lost.  Photograph any visible cuts, bruises, scrapes, etc., and continue to take periodic photographs throughout the healing process. Get names, addresses and written statements from eyewitnesses. Keep a daily diary, which includes a record both your physical condition and limitations, dates of doctor’s appointments, time missed from work, etc. Keep all insurance forms, medical and repair bills, and receipts. Get photographs of your vehicle before it is repaired. If possible, get photographs of the other vehicle(s) as well. Obtain copies of police reports and newspaper articles. Photographs should also be taken of the accident scene, showing important things such as skid marks, location of lights or stop signs, damage to fences or trees, etc.  If you suspect that your injury could be the result of a mechanical malfunction, defective product, poorly designed highway, etc., it is very important to have the defective item examined by an expert immediately. Engineers, accident reconstruction experts, and other such experts can work more effectively if they see the evidence promptly. In such a situation, do not dispose of the faulty vehicle or equipment until your own attorney tells you that you may do so.
    • SEEK LEGAL ADVICE QUICKLY. Even if you do not think that you want to sue, know all your legal rights. Remember the infected hangnail? Serious complications could change your mind about taking further action.  Get an individual consultation with an attorney before you sign any statements or releases or accept any settlement. Unfortunately, overzealous insurance adjusters will sometimes try to get you to sign documents that are not properly explained to you. By signing such documents, you could be giving up all future rights in your case.  Be sure you fully understand the contents and possible implications of anything that you are signing. Do not leave your lawyer’s office without knowing the statute of limitations for your case. Attorney Pealer would be glad to meet with you to discuss your injury case.