Pittsburgh Personal Injury
It Is Personal And Experience Does Matter
Flaherty Fardo, LLC has over 25 years experience with personal injury lawsuits. If you are have been the victim of a personal injury or accident, here are the 5 basics of what you need to know.
The term “personal injury” is defined as an injury to the body, mind or emotions of an indiviudal. In Pennsylvania, individuals are entitled to recover monetary damages if the personal injury was caused by the negligence or carelessness of another party.
Step 1: Have You Been Injured?
Step 1 is always asking whether the plaintiff has actually been injured. You can have a bad accident, but unless the plaintiff has been physically and/or financially injured, there may not be a case. Under Pennsylvania law, injured victims of personal injury are entitled to recover for both physical, emotional and/or financial harm.
The physical damages include compensation for physical pain and emotional pain. The emotional pain may include stress, embarrassment and/or humility. These are all recoverable damages.
In addition, victims are entitled to compensation for past and future medical bills, past and future lost wages, and any other reasonable ‘out-of-pocket’ expenses.
If an injured victim has actually been physically, emotionally and/or financially harmed, then they may bring a lawsuit against another party if that party was negligent.
Step 2: Was Another Party Negligent?
Negligence is defined as failure to exercise due care. Under the law, people are expected to exercise reasonable care around other people. When someone is careless and causes harm, the injured party may sue the responsible party for all of the harm caused.
Proving that another party was negligent is not always easy. The responsible party may not admit fault, and the injured victim will be left having to prove in court that another party was responsible for their damages.
In Pennsylvania personal injury cases, the injured victim must prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that another party was negligent, and that the negligence directly caused harm. The “preponderance of the evidence” test is synonymous with ‘more likely than not’. The jury will basically be asked, was the defendant ‘more likely than not’ negligent?
The burden in personal injury cases is less than in criminal cases, where the burden of proof is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. In civil cases, the plaintiff does not have to prove ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. They must only prove their case by a ‘preponderance of the evidence’.
Step 3: Finding The Right Lawyer
Once it has been determined that someone was injured, and it appears ‘more likely than not’ that another party was responsible, injured victims should consult with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Finding the right lawyer can take time and effort. We strongly encourage injured victims and their families to interview several lawyers before hiring one.
Step 4: Taking The Case To Court
The first important decision is always do you try to settle before filing a lawsuit? While a settlement may sound nice and allow the recovery of compensation sooner, it is not always the best option.
We typically prefer to file suit sooner than later. Lawsuits take a long time. Even fast simple lawsuits can take 18 to 24 months to get to court. Two to three years is the average time most cases in Pennsylvania take before they have a trial.
The first step in the legal process is filing the Complaint in Civil Action. This is the lawsuit that sets forth why the plaintiff is entitled to compensation. The complaint must set forth the the theories of liability, the facts supporting the theories, and an explanation of the damage suffered.
Once the complaint is filed, the defendants are required to file a response. This response can either ask to dismiss the complaint, or in the alternative respond to the allegations therein. If the allegations by the plaintiff are denied, then the parties may engage in the discovery process.
The discovery process includes written discovery in the form of questions and requests from the opposing party. They are formally referred to as Interrogatories (questions) and Request for Documents. Parties may also take depositions, which is oral testimony given under oath. The discovery phase can take anywhere from three months to eighteen months or longer depending upon the complexity of the issues.
In Allegheny County, the parties will not go to trial unless one of the parties informs the court they are ready for trial. At that point, a trial will be scheduled about six to eight months later.
Step 5: Getting Paid
The last step of the personal injury process is getting paid. The good news is that all payments for pain and suffering in personal injury cases are not considered income for tax purposes. Thus all personal injury lawsuits are completely tax free in terms of payments to injured victims with limited exception.
The bad news is that the injured victim typically has significant expenses that will need to be paid out of any award or settlement received. The lawyer will be paid their 40%. In addition, injured victims will be responsible for reimbursing the lawyer for any out of pocket expenses the lawyer incurred. It is important for plaintiffs to keep up to date with any costs your lawyer is advancing on their behalf.
Finally, injured victims need to know whether there are any medical liens or other subrogation claims against the settlement or award. In most personal injury or medical malpractice cases, there are monies that the plaintiff will owe for reimbursement of medical bills paid.
Most health insurance agreements provide that if a 3rd party causes harm, and the injured victim is later compensated, then the insurance company is allowed to seek reimbursement for the medical bills they paid.
In the end, the amount the injured victim actually receives can be a much smaller percentage than the total amount actually recovered. Therefore, it is important that if an injured person has a serious personal injury that they very carefully select the lawyer representing their interests, and only hire lawyers that they trust.