The Basics of Personal Injury Law

When someone gets injured because of the negligent or reckless actions of another party, they may be eligible to file a civil claim for monetary damages. This is often referred to as “personal injury” or “tort” law. Personal injury laws allow an injured party to seek compensation in order to be “made whole” for the losses that they have suffered.

Some of the most common instances in which a personal injury claim could be filed include:

  • Accidents: Most personal injury claims are filed because of accidents that occur due to someone acting in a negligent or careless manner. These may include auto accidents, trucking accidents, motorcycle accidents, some workplace accidents, premises liability accidents (e.g., slips and falls), medical malpractice, nursing home negligence, wrongful death, and many others.
  • Defective or Dangerous Products: When a consumer suffers harm through regular use of a product, they may be able to file a personal injury claim under the legal theory known as “product liability”. A product liability claim can be filed against the manufacturer, distributor, other parties within the product’s supply chain.
  • Intentional Acts: Intentional harm happens when someone willfully and intentionally causes a personal injury. Examples may include fraud and other intentional acts.
  • Defamation: If someone’s false statements cause harm to another person’s reputation, they may be able to file a defamation of character lawsuit.

What Types of Damages Can I Receive from a Personal Injury Claim?

You can pursue compensatory damages for all losses you have sustained from your injury, both economic and noneconomic:

  • Economic Damages: These are direct monetary losses that the injured party suffers. Examples include hospitalization costs, doctor visits, costs for surgeries and other types of treatment, costs for ongoing medical care, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and property damage.
  • Noneconomic Damages: These are losses that are real but intangible and more difficult to assign a dollar figure. Examples include the physical and emotional pain and suffering the victim has to endure, the inability to participate in activities they once enjoyed, and the effects of having to live with a permanent injury.

In more limited cases in which the actions of the party responsible for the injury go beyond standard negligence, punitive damages may also be awarded as punishment to the wrongdoer. Punitive damages may be appropriate in cases when the responsible party acted willfully, maliciously, or with gross negligence.

How Does a Personal Injury Claim Work?

Every case is different, and there are always unique circumstances that will determine how a claim might play out. In most accident injury cases, for example, the injured person will be dealing with the at fault party’s insurer. They might choose to handle the claim alone, or they could hire a personal injury lawyer. Without a lawyer, it will be up to the injured person to work out a settlement directly with the insurance company or other representatives for the defendant.

Although an injured person may think they can save money in attorney fees by handling a claim on their own, they may often be disappointed by the settlement offer they receive. The goal of the defendants and their insurance companies is to pay out as little as possible for the claim, and without legal representation, the other side will have far less incentive to give you a reasonable offer.

When an injured person is represented by an attorney, they have a legal professional in their corner who will put together the strongest possible case on their behalf. They will also have someone to present their case to the defendant’s representatives during negotiations. And if the other side is not willing to negotiate in good faith, an experienced attorney will be ready and able to take the case to trial.

Just how big a difference does it make to have legal representation in a personal injury case?

As we mentioned earlier, every case is different, but according to a survey of the readers of Nolo, a well-known online legal directory, the average compensation for those with legal representation was $77,600, while the average compensation for those without legal representation was $17,600. In addition, 91% of those in the survey who had an attorney received a payout, while only 51% of those without an attorney received one.

Whether you are represented by an attorney or not, most of the time, personal injury cases are settled without going to trial. In the Nolo survey, just 4% of the cases went to trial, which is pretty typical. In general, it is in everyone’s best interests to settle without litigation, but when you are represented by an attorney with proven trial experience, the other side is usually more motivated to make a reasonable settlement offer because there is a credible threat that you are willing to litigate the case if they don’t.

Contact Our Seasoned West Virginia Personal Injury Attorneys

If you or someone close to you got injured because of the negligence, recklessness, or willful acts of another party, The Masters Law Firm is here to help. Message us online or call our office today at 304-342-3106 or toll free at 1-800-342-3106 for a free consultation and case assessment.

Can my Car Accident Claim be Reopened after it is Settled?

If you got injured in an auto accident, you may be thinking about whether to accept a quick settlement offer from the responsible party’s insurance company. This is understandable.

After getting hurt in an accident, finances can get pretty tight when you are out of work for a while and have medical bills to pay, and the last thing you want to deal with is a long and drawn out injury claim. So, when an insurance company approaches you with an offer to settle, it can be very tempting to accept that offer.

The problem with accepting an early offer from an insurance company is that it can be and usually is far less than what your claim is actually worth. You might not realize this at the time, but later when all of your physical symptoms have totally manifested themselves and your medical tests are completed, your doctor informs you that your injuries are considerably worse than you originally thought.

When this type of situation arises, many people wonder if it is possible to reopen their car accident claim after it has already been settled. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is generally “no”. There are some limited circumstances when a personal injury case could be reopened (more on these later), but most of the time, you cannot pursue additional compensation after you have accepted a settlement offer.

It is because of situations like these that we always recommend at least talking with an experienced personal injury lawyer before accepting any type of settlement offer from an insurance company. By consulting with an attorney, you can have your case thoroughly analyzed by an experienced professional and be advised of your legal rights and options. This way, you can make the most informed decision regarding whether or not you should take the offer.

Under what Circumstances can I Reopen a Car Accident Claim after It Has Been Settled?

If you take a settlement offer from an insurance company, you will normally be required to sign a “release of liability”, which waives your right to come after the defendant for additional damages. There are some instances, however, when it might be possible to pursue additional compensation even after you have agreed to settle a claim:

  • No Signed Agreement: You may be at the point where you have agreed to accept a car accident settlement offer, but you have not signed the paperwork yet. If this is the case, you might still be able to get out of it. That said, be aware that a verbal agreement to settle can sometimes be interpreted as legally valid, so speak with an attorney to find out what situation applies to your case.
  • Settlement Document contained Technical Errors: Maybe the document that you signed has materially significant technical errors. For example, you agree to a settlement of $53,000, but they displace a couple of the numbers and write up the agreement as $35,000. If this happened, you could have them correct the mistake, or it may be possible to back out of the agreement.
  • Defendant Failed to Perform: The defendant agrees to pay you the settlement within 10 days, but 20 days later you have not seen your check. They are now very hard to get a hold of, and when you do reach them, their answers are vague and evasive. In a situation like this, it might be possible to reopen the case because the defendant failed to perform.
  • There Are other Potential At-Fault Parties: Some car accidents involve multiple vehicles and the possibility of several parties that could be at fault. Accidents involving a commercial vehicle could also put multiple parties on the hook, such as the defendant’s employer, a cargo/shipping company, or the party responsible for maintaining the vehicle. Even in a standard two-car accident, a vehicle defect could be a contributing factor. If there are parties other than the one that you settled with that could share some responsibility for your accident, then you may be able to file a claim against them for additional damages.
  • Your Underinsured Motorist Coverage:  You may be able to make a claim against your own insurance company if the amount of insurance available from the defendant is not enough to cover all of your losses. However, if you accept a settlement from a defendant without getting consent from your own insurance carrier, or for less than the defendant’s policy limits, you may waive your right to seek underinsured coverage. This can be tricky, so it is best to contact a lawyer to help you protect your rights to seek Underinsured Motorist Coverage.

Contact Our Experienced West Virginia Car Accident Lawyers

It is not usually possible to open a car accident claim after you have already settled, but there are some limited instances when it can be done. If you are wondering whether this could apply to your case, the best place to start is to speak with a skilled and knowledgeable auto accident attorney.

In West Virginia, contact The Masters Law Firm in Charleston at 304-342-3106 or toll free at 1-800-342-3106, or message us online to schedule a free consultation.