Why Do You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?
July 15, 2022
Wondering whether you need a personal injury lawyer?
Personal injury lawyers can help people who suffer injuries, illness, or other harm because of another entity’s actions. The other entity can be a person or an organization, such as a company.
Negligence and Personal Injury
Negligence is the key to understanding personal injury as the law defines it. Negligence means that the person or organization that harmed you owed you a duty of care and breached the duty of care. “Breached” here means that you never received the duty of care, either through commission (active doing of wrong) or omission (failing to perform needed duty of care actions).
Let’s say a car driver going 30 miles per hour in a 15-mile-per-hour zone hits your child on their bike. Your child receives multiple fractures, including both legs. Clearly, your child suffers injuries. They very likely experience pain and fear as well. Not only that, but the treatment and healing process may take multiple rounds of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations, and perhaps even surgery. Your child may need physical therapy after the broken bones heal. They may miss summer camp, family trips, or other events because of the accident.
So it’s clear that your child suffered injuries and harm. It also seems as if the accident stems from negligence. Car drivers’ duty of care includes following posted speed limits and obeying other traffic safety laws. Their duty of care also encompasses prudent behavior, such as noticing children riding bicycles and avoiding them. The driver breached those duties of care.
One more crucial piece is needed to prove negligence. The negligent action must directly cause the injuries; they cannot stem from another source. Let’s say an insurance company, for instance, tries to argue that your child’s broken bones happened earlier in a playground accident. (Far-fetched, maybe, but insurance companies have been known to try such arguments.) If so, the driver would not bear responsibility for the injuries because the driver ultimately didn’t cause them.
A negligent driver breaches the duty of care and injures others. That makes the driver liable (or financially responsible) for injuries caused by the negligence.
Injured people can thus receive financial compensation from negligent parties and their insurance companies for injuries caused by negligence.
What Is a Dram Shop Law?
In Michigan, bars and other alcohol vendors must refuse service to anyone visibly inebriated or under the legal drinking age. That’s the dram shop law. If they don’t, and the person then injures or harms someone in an alcohol-related incident, the vendor who violated the Dram Shop law is liable for the injuries (along with the person causing the injury).
Note that this does not apply to people serving alcohol socially. Some states’ dram shop laws extend to private spaces, but Michigan’s doesn’t.
What Compensation Can I Seek for My Injuries?
Injured people can seek economic compensation for their injuries, either by approaching the negligent party’s insurance company or bringing a personal injury suit in civil court.
You can seek compensation in the following categories.
- Medical bills already incurred – For emergency services (ambulances and emergency department care), hospitalization, surgery, doctor’s office visits, medical care, diagnostic tests, physical therapy, prescription medication, medical devices, retrofitting a home to accommodate injuries, and more
- Future medical bills – In all of the above categories.
- Wages lost from work – For work lost due to the injury-causing accident itself, medical treatment, and recovery time.
- Property damage – For property damaged or destroyed in the injury-causing accident, such as a vehicle.
- Pain and suffering – For physical, emotional, and psychological pain and suffering.
What About Car Accidents?
As most Michigan residents know, we are a no-fault state for car accidents. That means injured people generally turn to their own insurance companies for payment of medical bills and limited wages lost from work. The personal injury protection (PIP) coverage required by the state does not cover non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering.
The law does provide, however, that seriously injured people can step outside of the no-fault system. If your injuries allow this, you can seek damages higher than the PIP maximum might be and also seek compensation for non-economic harm such as pain and suffering.
Can I Seek Compensation If a Loved One Dies from Injuries?
Yes, family members can seek compensation if a loved one dies as a result of injuries or illness caused by a negligent party. The executor of the deceased’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit when the injured person dies instead of recovering.
Compensation in wrongful death suits includes.
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Reasonable hospital and medical expenses incurred before the death
- Loss of financial support the deceased person provided
- Loss of the deceased’s care and companionship
- The deceased’s pain and suffering
Under Michigan law, the spouse and children may receive damages from a wrongful death suit, as can surviving parents, siblings, and grandparents. If the deceased’s spouse has surviving children, they may receive damages. Finally, the law allows any recipient of the deceased’s property in the will to receive damages.
When Should I Bring a Legal Claim for Personal Injury?
The statute of limitations in Michigan, for personal injury and wrongful death, is three years from the injury or death. The statute of limitations refers to the deadline to bring a civil suit, after which the court will not hear the case.
But bear in mind that any successful personal injury case needs evidence: evidence of what or who caused the injury-causing incident, evidence of their connection to your injuries, and evidence of the harm your injuries caused. The more time goes by, the harder it may become to gather evidence. Eyewitnesses can forget or move out of state. Medical records may become lost or destroyed.
If you need to file a legal claim for personal injury, the best move is to consult a lawyer as soon as possible after the injury. Personal injury lawyers offer free consultations for the initial discussion about a case.
What Evidence Do I Need?
Good question! All legal cases rely on evidence. The evidence in personal injury cases may vary, depending on what caused the injury.
Common evidence includes:
- Police reports of an accident
- Pictures or videos of an accident
- Surveillance video showing an accident or incident
- Eyewitness testimony
- Medical records of diagnosis and treatment
- Pictures or videos of injuries
Don’t worry if you don’t have this evidence. A lawyer can help you gather existing evidence, such as police reports and medical records. Lawyers also work with investigators who can track down evidence like potential eyewitnesses and surveillance footage, say from a retail store camera overlooking a scene.
At times, lawyers consult with forensic specialists who can reconstruct how an accident happened. Their reconstructions can also serve as evidence. For cases of product liability, in which a product causes injury or illness, lawyers can consult medical experts and seek out cases concerning the same product to see if similar injury-causing events have occurred.
Filing Claims With Insurance Companies: The Art of Negotiation
In a perfect world, injured people could file claims with the negligent party’s insurance company and receive just compensation. However, many reasons exist why that doesn’t happen.
Insurance companies deploy sophisticated strategies to deny or minimize injured folks’ claims as much as possible. It isn’t fair to the injured, but in their minds, it is, because it keeps their profits healthy.
In addition, the negligent party does not always admit negligence. Many insurance adjusters receive slanted or outright wrong information and may pass it on to you. A negligent driver, for instance, could claim that you ran the stop sign, not him. (That’s one reason pictures of an accident scene constitute excellent evidence; a picture can prove that untrue.)
So you may experience an insurance adjuster telling you that the negligent party (their insured) didn’t cause the accident, but you did. Or that it stemmed from another person or another event entirely. If their insured isn’t negligent, they don’t have to pay your claim.
Or you may hear that your injuries don’t fit the profile of injuries caused in that type of accident. Or that you aren’t injured as severely as you claim. Or that you perhaps suffered injuries, but not in the accident their insured caused.
Countering all these claims takes time, energy, and evidence. Insurance companies become adept at leaching your time and energy. Reaching them may be difficult to impossible. The injury-causing event may have left you stunned, stressed, and in pain, making evidence gathering challenging.
Insurance companies know that you may find negotiating with them difficult. That’s why they do their best to make it as difficult as possible.
On the other hand, they may lowball you. A lowball is a promptly settled claim, but for far less than a just claim would total. It makes physically and financially stressed people thankful that they can finally pay their bills—but then they find the check won’t cover them all. You may not realize that you should receive more, or that the settlement check should have included non-economic damages.
Always ask a lawyer to negotiate with the insurance company. Lawyers understand the strategies insurance companies use. Lawyers can put a fair dollar figure on your injuries and the effect they’ve had on your life. They won’t accept a low ball if you should receive more. Lawyers negotiate for a living, and they can negotiate for a fair settlement from the insurance company.
Insurance companies are one of the prime reasons you need a personal injury lawyer. Lawyers, of course, can always take a case to trial if the insurance company doesn’t settle fairly. The threat of a court case is often enough to nudge a settlement forward. From an insurance company perspective, it’s riskier to defend in court than to settle fairly, because a jury may feel sympathy with the injured and not with an insurance company.
What Should I Bring to an Initial Consultation With a Personal Injury Lawyer?
An initial consultation allows you to discuss your case and its impact on your life. The attorney will advise you on the outlook of your case and possible compensation.
To that end, the attorney needs to know the facts and evidence. It’s a good idea to bring any evidence you have. It’s also prudent to write down what happened, who or what caused the event, your injuries, their severity and extent, and the impacts on your life. Walk the lawyer through the injury-causing event using your notes, and they’ll have a much better idea of how you should move forward.