California Personal Injury Attorneys
When a person is injured in an accident, someone is often legally responsible. Personal injury is a branch of law that is designed to protect persons harmed by the careless or intentional actions of others. The legal system sets out the parameters for compensating victims who have been injured by such careless actions.
Personal injury law encompasses a broad range of claims, including wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, defective products, work injuries, and dog bites.
To establish a claim, the injured person must be able to demonstrate that another party has legal responsibility for their injuries. To establish responsibility for the personal injuries, two factors must be proven: liability (culpability) and damages (losses).
Liability: In personal injury law, liability is largely divided into three categories: intentional wrongs, negligence, and strict liability. These areas are discussed in detail below.
Damages: Depending on the circumstances of the case, an injured person can seek damages for physical injury, lost earnings, impairment of future earnings, lifestyle changes, loss of support to loved ones, property damage, and past, present, and future medical care and expenses.
If you have been injured, you should recognize that legal action is a complicated endeavor. It would be wise to consult an experienced and reputable personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after any accident that causes injury to you or a loved one.
Who Is Responsible For Your Injuries?
In order to pursue a personal injury claim, you must establish that someone is liable (or culpable) for your injuries. There are three broad areas of liability that allow an individual to pursue a claim: intentional wrongs, negligence, and strict liability. Negligence is by far the most common basis for a case, but we will look at all three.
1. Intentional Wrongs
This type of liability requires an intention by someone to act in a way that results in harm to someone else. For example, if someone strikes you, even as a practical joke, that person could be liable for a battery. In many instances of intentional wrongs, the victim may pursue a civil lawsuit in addition to criminal charges. Victims of domestic or sexual abuse, for instance, may file both a civil lawsuit and a criminal complaint claim with the police.
What Exactly is Personal Injury?
Intentional wrongs are not insurable in California. A claimant generally has to seek the personal assets of the defendant to obtain compensation for intentionally-caused injuries. Because of difficulties that exist with collecting damages against individuals, few personal injury lawyers are willing to take such cases unless the defendant has substantial resources. It is important to contact an experienced attorney in order to determine if you have been subjected to an intentional wrong, and the practicality of pursuing remedies for your damages.
Under the law of negligence, a person is liable for personal injuries if they were acting in a careless manner. Persons who act negligently do not intend to cause injury — their liability is the result of careless or thoughtless action. The test of whether a person has acted negligently includes asking how a reasonable person would have acted in the same situation.
During a negligence trial, either the judge or the jury decides what a “reasonable person” would have done after hearing all the facts in the case. The reasonable person is not an actual person or any individual member of the jury, but a concept that represents the community’s expectations of how a person should act to avoid causing injuries to others.
The question of what is negligent and what is reasonable is an objective one and does not take into account the specific abilities of the defendant. For example, a defendant with low intelligence or inexperience is held to the same standard as a person of higher intelligence or more experience. Likewise, intoxication is not an excuse for negligence because the person chose to have impaired judgment.
In the case of individuals with specialized training or knowledge — doctors, lawyers, engineers, pilots, etc. — their standard of conduct is compared to how a reasonable person in those fields or professions would act. This type of negligence is covered by “malpractice law.”
In California and most other states, a personal injury lawyer representing an injured party can prevail in a negligence claim only by proving:
- Duty: The defendant owed you a duty of care under the circumstances. In general, people have a duty to act reasonably in order to protect others from harm, especially when a relationship exists between the parties. For example, a store owner has a duty to protect customers from slipping and falling on a freshly-mopped floor because there is a legally recognized relationship between the property owner and customer (the customer is sometimes called the “invitee”). In another example, the driver of an automobile has a legal duty to his passengers and all other drivers to operate their vehicle with reasonable caution. A pre-existing relationship also creates a duty, such as an employer’s duty to ensure the safety of employees during working hours.
- Breach of Duty: A defendant breaches a duty of care when he or she fails to act the way a reasonable person would have acted under similar circumstances. If the store owner mentioned above fails to post a warning sign after mopping the floor and a customer slips and falls, he or she has breached their duty of care. The question, decided by the jury or judge, is whether the defendant exercised reasonable care in his or her actions to prevent the customer from sustaining an injury.
- Causation: It must be shown that the defendant’s breach of duty actually caused the victim’s personal injuries. This is often called “but-for” causation. In other words, but for the defendant’s actions, the injury would not have happened. In addition, the plaintiff must show that their injuries were foreseeable by the defendant before he or she engaged in the actions that caused the injury. This is called “proximate cause.”
- Damages: Damages must result from the breach of the defendant’s (responsible party) duty of care. These damages usually take the form of physical injuries, financial loss, and/or property damage.
3. Strict Liability
Under the strict liability theory, the defendant can be held responsible for a personal injury without regard as to whether he or she was careless. This means that you do not have to show that the defendant was negligent in order to recover. This doctrine of “liability without fault” is usually applied to the following types of cases:
- Animal Attacks. Originally, strict liability applied to cases such as damage to property from trespassing livestock or injury caused by wild animals, even if their owners or keepers exercised the utmost care. The most common example in this category is injuries caused by dog attacks. California, like many states, has passed strict liability statutes that hold an owner strictly liable for injuries caused by dog bites, even if the owner had no idea that their dog could be vicious.
- Abnormally dangerous activities. If the nature of an activity is extremely dangerous, persons who engage in that activity can be strictly liable if someone is injured as a result of that activity, even if they exercised reasonable care. Some examples include storage of explosives or flammable liquids, crop dusting or fumigation, and maintaining a hazardous waste site.
- Products liability. Under the strict liability theory, a manufacturer or seller can be held liable for placing a defective product in the hands of a consumer.When a defective product causes an injury, there are several potential responsible parties. These include the manufacturer of the product or one of its components, the wholesaler, the retail store that sold the product, and anyone who assembled or installed the product. Some considerations in product liability cases include:
- Regular course of business: The sale must be made during the seller’s regular course of business. Therefore, someone who sells a product at a garage sale would not be liable.
- Foreseeable victims: The buyer is not the only party who can bring legal action based on product liability. Any person who could have been foreseeably injured by a defective product can recover for injuries caused by that defect. In this type of legal action, it must be shown that the product was defective and that the defect made the product unreasonably dangerous for its intended use.
- Type of defects: There are three types of defects: design defects, assembly or manufacturing defects, and marketing defects, such as improper labeling, insufficient instructions, or inadequate safety warnings.
Personal Injury Statistics
Accidents can occur anywhere and at any time, and their numbers are significant. Current statistics show that there are over six million motor vehicle accidents each year, for example. In addition to traffic accidents:
- Slip and falls are the second leading cause of injuries in the United States, accounting for 16,000 deaths every year.
- Dogs bite more than 4.7 million people annually.
- There are 11,000 spinal cord injuries per year, 6 people drown in swimming pools every day, and there are 1.1 million burn injuries every year.
What Should You Do After You Have Sustained a Personal Injury?
After being injured in an accident, it is very important to protect your rights to all legal remedies available to you. The following are steps that you should take after an accident:
- Seek Immediate Medical. Seek Immediate Medical Attention. If you or a loved one is hurt, you should seek prompt medical help. Clearly convey all of your injuries to the attending physician or emergency services personnel and explain how you sustained them. Reporting your injuries will be memorialized in your personal records, which will help doctors manage your treatments. It will also provide evidence that your injuries are connected to the accident, which is necessary to establish that the accident caused the injuries. You or a loved one should also:
- Take photographs of all injuries
- Keep records of all medical appointments and treatments, medications taken, lost time from work and other activities, pain experienced, limitation of activities, and all incurred expenses;
- Keep notes of all conversations with doctors and medical personnel
- Preserve Evidence. If possible, write down the names, addresses and phone numbers of all potential witnesses to the accident. If motor vehicles are involved, get all license plate numbers along with the names, addresses, phone numbers, and insurance information of all drivers. Take photographs of the accident scene and surrounding area from different angles as well as the source of your injuries. If your injuries were caused by a defective product, do not return the product to the retailer or manufacturer and do not throw it away. Make sure that it is kept in a secure place and do not alter it in any way. Your attorney will need the product to have it examined by experts. If the product is in the possession of someone else, seek an attorney’s help. An attorney may be able to file for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to avoid destruction of the product.
- Contact An Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer. Your chances of recovering adequate compensation for your injuries in an accident could change at any moment. Not knowing important steps that should be taken early on in your case can result in irreversible damage to your case. It is essential to speak with a skilled lawyer as soon as possible after an accident in order to protect your legal rights and ensure that evidence is preserved.
- Do Not Talk To Insurance Companies Without Consulting Your Attorney. Insurance companies do not make profits by paying out damages. It is in their best interest to avoid payment altogether or settle quickly for the least amount of money possible. In the majority of cases, you cannot ask for additional compensation once you have agreed to a settlement. Often, an injured person will discover as time goes by that their injuries were more extensive than they appeared initially. This could lead to additional unexpected medical bills and longer disability. Do not discuss anything pertaining to your injuries or about the accident that caused them without first speaking to a California personal injury lawyer.
Other Responsible Parties
The concept of negligence is not limited to an individual’s action. Small businesses, organizations, companies, partnerships, and even large corporations can all be liable if they have breached their duty of care and caused injury or other damages to someone. This is especially true in cases of personal injuries caused by defective products. Other types of responsible parties include the following:
- Employers. Employers can usually be held responsible for the negligent acts of its employees. However, an employer can only be liable if the wrongful actions of the employee occurred while the employee was working and the actions were within the scope of his duties. For example, if an employer sends an employee on an errand and the employee injures a person after running a stop sign, the employer would normally be held liable. However, if the employee goes to a baseball game instead, the employer would not be liable. In the latter case the employer is not liable because the employee was not in the course and scope of his duties.The employer also has a duty to protect its own employees while at work. However, these rights and protections exist under a specialized area of law known as workers’ compensation.
- Government entities. Often, an accident occurs on public property. In such cases, a government entity may be a responsible party. For example, your child could be injured on city playground equipment that was poorly maintained, or you could have an automobile accident that was caused by a state employee driving a state-owned vehicle. If your claim is against a federal, state, or local government, or an employee of a government entity, there are government guidelines, including deadlines, that must be strictly followed. Under the U.S. Constitution, government entities are immune from liability. However, most governments have passed laws that waive their immunity and allow for the filing of injury claims against them. Examples include the California Tort Claims Act and the Federal Tort Claims Act. These laws have very specific requirements for giving notice of your injury and for filing claims. If these rules are not followed, you can automatically lose your right to receive compensation from the government. The complexity of filing a claim against the government makes it imperative to get the assistance of a personal injury attorney experienced in government entity claim lawsuits.
- Property owners. Property owners also may be liable for injuries. If you are injured in an accident that is caused by a dangerous condition on someone’s land, the property owner could be liable for being careless in maintaining the property, even if the owner did not create the dangerous condition. In California, a landowner owes a duty of reasonable care to anyone who enters the property, whether as a social guest, a business customer, and sometimes, even as a trespasser.
- Multiple parties. California’s law of joint and several liability holds that when various parties bear fault for someone’s personal injuries, each party is liable for the entire amount of that person’s “economic” damages, regardless of the extent of culpability. Economic damages would include such things as medical expenses and lost wages.“Noneconomic” damages, on the other hand, would be divided based on percentage of fault. Noneconomic damages include such things as emotional distress and pain and suffering.
Defenses to a Negligence-Based Personal Injury Lawsuit
A defendant will often try to introduce evidence to negate one of the elements needed to show negligence as discussed above, such as claiming that no duty was owed to the plaintiff or that reasonable care was exercised. Two of the most common defenses used to eliminate or limit liability for a personal injury are “comparative fault” and “assumption of the risk.”
- Comparative fault. If an accident happened partly due to your own carelessness, you can still recover from the party that was primarily responsible for your injuries. However, the amount of your recovery will be reduced under what is called “comparative negligence,” or comparative fault. The opposing party’s carelessness is compared to yours, and that determines the percentage of liability and the amount of damages that each party must pay.
- Assumption of the risk. Another defense to a claim of negligence or strict liability is called “assumption of the risk.” Under this defense, the claimant is precluded from recovering for his or her injuries because they were made aware of the risk of injury and chose to engage in the activity anyway. For example, if you choose to ride the bumper cars at a fair, you are assuming the risk that you might get a neck injury. However, the ride operator would still be potentially liable for injuries not related to normal operation of the ride, such as faulty equipment causing you to be thrown from the car. Additionally, in product liability cases, you may not be able to make a claim of strict liability if you knew about the product’s defect and continued to use it anyway. Another defense can be raised if you used the product in a way that it was not intended to be used. For example, if you turn a lawn mower on its side to trim the hedges and are injured, there is no strict liability because a lawn mower is not intended to be used as a hedge trimmer. Likewise, if you alter or modify a product, you cannot claim strict liability for any resulting injuries. If you have been injured by someone’s intentional act, negligent act, or by a defective product, it is important that you consult an experienced lawyer without delay. Whether in California or another state, a skilled personal injury lawyer’s expertise is required from the beginning of these often complex cases in order to ensure all relevant evidence and potential claims are preserved.
What Kind Of Compensation Can I Recover In My Personal Injury Claim?
If you have been the victim of an accident and have been injured, you have a right to be compensated for your losses. There are two main types of damages:
- Compensatory or actual damages are intended to cover all the expenses and aliments caused by the personal injury. In certain circumstances, your family members may also be entitled to recover damages. Damage awards can include the following:
- Medical expenses. This includes bills and expenses for services from doctors, hospitals, ambulance fees, medication, and services from nurses or other health care providers related to your injury.
- Pain and suffering. This is an award to compensate you for past and future physical pain caused by your accident.
- Lost wages. This award represents the amount of money you would have earned from the time of the injury to the final judgment or settlement.
- Impairment of earning capacity. If your injuries have reduced your ability to earn money in the future, compensation can be awarded for that loss.
- Future medical expenses. This applies to continued medical care as needed.
- Mental anguish. This type of damage applies to certain circumstances of mental suffering or emotional distress, including mental suffering from disfigurement, or witnessing the death or catastrophic injury of a loved one.
- Loss of consortium. These damages apply to the deprivation of the benefits of married life after an accident or injury, including companionship, affection, comfort, or sexual relations between spouses. Usually the spouse of the injured person is the party who makes these claims.
- Loss of society and companionship. This is a damage that may be awarded in wrongful death cases to immediate family members of the deceased for the loss of love, comfort, and companionship they would have enjoyed if the deceased had lived.
- Property damage. An award for expenses related to property damaged in an accident, such as a wrecked vehicle.
- Punitive damages are discretionary and are usually awarded to a personal injury victim in addition to actual damages when the defendant’s conduct has been especially malicious or egregious. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for his or her reprehensible conduct and to act as a deterrent to prevent the defendant and others from acting the same way.
Choosing the Right Personal Injury Lawyer For Your Claim
California has numerous laws pertaining to personal injury cases that can affect the success of your claim and the level of damages that you can recover to mitigate the potentially devastating and long-lasting effects on your health, finances, and family relationships. Most accident victims must depend on the damages they are awarded to cover the costs of their medical bills and lost income, therefore you should consider the following factors when choosing an attorney to handle your claim:
- Choose an attorney who is an authority on personal injury. A specialist attorney will be better equipped to accurately assess the merits of your case and determine the best legal strategy for obtaining the compensation that is due to you. Specialist lawyers are also going to be more informed of current developments in their field of expertise; it is more difficult for attorneys to stay informed if they split their time between a variety of legal disciplines.
- Choose an experienced and established law practice. Inexperienced attorneys may be at a disadvantage in negotiating with insurance companies and preparing and taking cases to trial when negotiations fail. Choosing an attorney with a proven track record of successful negotiations and trials is essential. An experienced lawyer will be able to quickly and effectively initiate investigations, secure evidence, locate witnesses, file necessary documents, and keep your case moving forward.
- Choose an attorney or firm that is well-financed. Many personal injury cases take a large amount of resources, especially if they happen to go to trial. Most personal injury attorneys work for a contingency fee, that is their legal fees that come out of your settlement, it is essential for your lawyer to be well-financed in order to properly protect your legal rights and effectively represent you since cases can be expensive to prosecute. Damages that are claimed by an injured individual, for example, must be proven, which can require the hiring of expensive treating physicians, such as neurologists and orthopedic specialists, and experts such as engineers, economists, vocational rehab and life-care planners. It is therefore very important to retain a lawyer who is not only experienced and effective, but who also has the monetary resources to pay for all necessary litigation costs.
- Choose a lawyer who will be committed to your case. An effective working relationship must be established between the attorney and the client in order to have the best chance for a successful outcome. You should seek an attorney who will keep you informed of the progress of your case, who is professional, and who will zealously protect your interests. The California legal process can be a daunting experience and you will not be able to properly assess the merits of your case unless you speak with a personal injury attorney who can explain your legal rights. Make sure you have the information you need to make an educated decision on choosing the best legal representation.
The Reeves Law Group has handled thousands of cases and achieved exceptional results for our clients while earning a reputation for professionalism and competence. We have both the substantial experience and the resources to best handle your case. Our team of highly skilled personal injury attorneys are located throughout California and will diligently pursue exceptional results in your case. For a free consultation, please call us at (800) 644-8000 or e-mail us.