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Posted On October 22, 2013 Personal Injury

Laws and Liability: Understanding the Basics

If you’re reading this, either you or someone you love has probably been the victim of an accident. You’re coping with injuries, property damage and lost time and money, not to mention more stress than anyone should be expected to handle. You need help right now – real help, not deceptive sales pitches or vague advice. You deserve the guidance of a real attorney, even if you don’t want to shell out part of your settlement money just to have one handle your claim.

Depending on the circumstances of your accident, you may be able to not only handle your own claim without the help of a lawyer, but also receive all the compensation you deserve – and the best part is that you won’t have any attorney’s fees to pay at the end. The world of personal injury claims can be complicated, filled with concepts and terms that you probably don’t encounter in your daily life. The first step to success is understanding the basics of how the personal injury claims process works.

What Is a Personal Injury Claim?

In its simplest form, a personal injury claim is a demand for money to compensate or make up for a loss suffered as a result of a physical injury caused by another person’s carelessness. Losses suffered in an accident are also referred to as damages. Often, medical expenses make up a significant part of these losses. If there is no physical injury, there is no “personal injury” claim. Even without a serious injury, however, there may be economic losses, such as wage loss or property damage, for which you are entitled to compensation.

An essential part of a personal injury claim is liability, or fault. In any personal injury claim, you, the claimant, will seek compensation against the insurance company of a person or business that caused your injuries, in whole or in part. In the discipline of personal injury law, we talk a lot about negligence, or conduct that fails to uphold what we call a “standard of care,” or a legal duty to protect or not cause harm to others. When someone is negligent and that failure causes harm to another person, the individual or company that was negligent is considered at fault for the consequences of their actions.

When you pursue a personal injury claim, you’re not “going against” or suing the negligent person or company directly. Instead, you’re demanding money from the insurance company that the individual or business pays to protect them financially in case of such a situation. We’ll talk more about insurance companies in the future.

Though it’s common to hear the word “win” used in the context of a personal injury claim, you’re not involved in any official contest. The claim you are pursuing is a long way from a lawsuit – and the purpose of this book is to help you obtain the money you deserve without having to turn your life into a courtroom drama.


Photo Credit: Flickr (Creative Commons license).

Types of Accidents That Can Result in a Personal Injury Claim

In the abstract, these concepts and terms seem more complicated than they need to be. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Auto accident: If you were hurt in a car accident caused by another driver, your damages probably include the injuries you have sustained, the expenses you incurred because of those injuries, any wages you lost because of those injuries, property damage such as the damage to your car, and the pain and suffering you have gone through as a result of your accident. When you file a claim with the insurance company of the at-fault driver, you will make the case that they are liable, or responsible, for your injuries because they behaved in a way that caused the accident. Their negligence lies in their failure to obey traffic safety laws. If you were driving a motorcycle, riding a bicycle, or on foot but were injured in an automobile accident, you will be making the same claim and facing similar damages.
  • Premises liability: Premises liability is a fancy phrase that means simply that an unsafe condition on a physical property makes the owner or the person who maintains the premises responsible for injuries that occur there. If you fell down a staircase due to a broken handrail, slipped and fell on a wet floor, or suffered another accident on a commercial or private property owned by someone other than yourself, you may be able to file a claim against the insurance company that covers these premises. As with a car accident, your damages will include the injuries you have sustained, the expenses you incurred because of those injuries, any wages you lost because of those injuries, any resulting property damage, and the pain and suffering you have gone through as a result of your accident.
  • Various accidents: While vehicular accidents and injuries on unsafe properties are two of the most common types of personal injury claims, they’re not the only ones. If you believe that another person or business caused your injuries, at least in part – and you think you can demonstrate that party’s liability – you may have a claim. If you’re not sure, take advantage of a free phone or in-person consultation with an attorney’s office. Many law firms offer these consultations with no obligation, and they may be able to tell you if special circumstances apply to your situation that could affect liability. You can still handle the claim yourself, but this way you will be forewarned of any unusual obstacles in your way.

Understanding Deadlines

As you prepare to begin pursuing your own personal injury claim, keep deadlines in mind. While you have a legal right to pursue compensation for accident injuries, your rights are not unlimited. The law restricts how long you have to file formal notices of claims and lawsuits, and some of these deadlines may change depending on who you are filing a claim against. In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the deadline to file a lawsuit, known as the statute of limitations, is two years from the date of the injury. Victims who are minors have until two years from the date they turn 18 years old, though their families can certainly settle claims on their behalf sooner.

However, some situations call for much earlier action. If the party responsible for your accident is a government agency, for example, written formal notices of a claim or intent to sue must be filed by a separate deadline. In Pennsylvania, this deadline is six months, while in New Jersey, it’s only 90 days.

Because you’re not familiar with every law your state has regarding civil claims – as well as any applicable local laws – your best bet is to start notifying all responsible parties and their insurance companies of the accident and your claim as early as possible. Don’t worry – all it takes is a simple letter.

The Advantages of Written Communications

From the first notice of a claim through the demand package and finally the release, you will be exchanging various kinds of written communications with insurance companies over the course of the claims process. We’ll go over these documents, and how to write them, in detail in the future.

Sending written communications, like letters, rather than relying on phone calls has a distinct advantage. You can retain copies of communications between you and the insurance company for your records – and if the case were to ever proceed to a lawsuit, these interactions could become evidence. Writing a letter rather than taking part in a two-party phone call means that you can be in control of what is said, so that you won’t forget to mention important details or have the conversation steered by an insurance adjuster.

Dealing with the personal injury claims process takes work and dedication, but it’s not impossible. Now that you’ve got a handle on the basics, you may be wondering whether your claim is the kind of case that you can handle yourself.