Personal injury FAQ


About personal injury

About catastrophic injury

What is personal injury?

Personal injury involves civil law cases in which you are trying to obtain compensation for an injury you sustained to your person — and that includes your body, mind and emotions. Legal responsibility, called “liability,” revolves around the simple fact that most injuries happen because someone was careless or “negligent.”

Even if you believe you may have partly caused your own injury, in most states you can still get some compensation from anyone else who was also careless and partly responsible for your injury.

Several factors affect the potential success and value of a personal injury claim. Such factors include the ability to prove the fault of another for your injury and the nature and extent of your injuries.

In pursuing personal injury claims, attorneys work with investigators and experts in specialized areas, who can skillfully investigate the technical and medical aspects of your case. More important, an attorney can work through the maze of paperwork necessary to resolve your claim so that you can get on with your life.

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What steps should you take if you are injured?

Of course, your number one concern if you are injured is to seek medical care. However, if you suspect you may have a legal claim, you should also contact an attorney for an evaluation of your case.

There are several steps you can take to increase your chances of financial recovery, and increase your potential overall recovery, in a personal injury case, even before you meet with an attorney. Such steps include:

  • writing down as much as you can about the accident, your injuries and any other losses (such as wages) you’ve suffered as a result of the accident
  • making notes of conversations that you have with people involved in the accident or the injury claim
  • preserving evidence of who caused the accident and what damage was done by collecting physical evidence and taking photographs
  • locating people who witnessed the accident and who might be able to help you prove your case
  • notifying anyone you think might be responsible for your injuries of your intention to file a claim for your injuries, especially if a government agency or employee may be involved.

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What is claim worth?

The amount truly depends on your very particular circumstances. A person who is responsible for an injury may have to pay the injured person for such things as:

  • medical care and related expenses
  • income lost because of the accident, and/or because of time spent unable to work or undergoing treatment for injuries
  • permanent physical disability or disfigurement
  • loss of family, social and educational experiences, including missed school or training, vacation or recreation, or a special event
  • emotional damages, such as stress, embarrassment, depression or strains on family relationships

Also, the following guidelines usually apply:

  • The more painful the injury, the higher the potential damages you may recover.
  • The more invasive and long-lasting the medical treatment, the higher the potential damages you may recover.
  • The longer the recovery period, the higher the potential damages you may recover.
  • The more serious and visible any permanent effect of the injury, the higher the potential damages you may recover.

A personal injury attorney can be more objective about your case than you can be and will not make a rash decision. When you may be tempted, for instance, to go for a quick payout, your attorney may counsel you that it is in your best interests to wait for a more appropriate offer.

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How will fault be determined?

Various rules of fault apply in different types of personal injury actions. Following are some examples of liability rules in different types of actions.

Suppose you are injured in a store. Can you recover damages from the store? It depends on the facts of the case. Storeowners must keep their premises reasonably safe for customers, inspecting and discovering any dangerous conditions. They also must keep all aisles clear and properly maintained. A judge or jury will look at whether the owner was aware of the condition that caused your injury and how long it had existed. A judge or jury will also look at your conduct in relation to the condition.

If you’ve been injured by a dangerous consumer product, you may have an easier time recovering compensation for your injuries than those who are injured in other ways. With “product liability,” the legal rules concerning who is responsible for defective or dangerous products are different from ordinary injury liability law, and this set of rules sometimes makes it easier for an injured person to recover damages. For several reasons, the law has developed a doctrine known as “strict liability,” not applicable in Virginia, which allows a person injured by a defective or unexpectedly dangerous product to recover compensation from the maker or seller of the product without showing that the manufacturer or seller was actually negligent. In Virginia, the doctrine of “implied warranty,” which is similar to that of strict liability, applies.

Thousands of people are injured each year, some very seriously, when they slip or trip and fall on a dangerous floor, a flight of stairs or a rough patch of ground. The law cannot determine with precision when someone else is legally responsible for something on which you slip or trip. Each case turns on whether the property owner acted carefully, so that slipping or tripping was not likely to happen and whether you were careless in not seeing or avoiding the thing that caused you to fall.

Automobile accident claims are by far the most common type of personal injury case in our court system today. Except in those states in which legislation has been passed doing away with fault as an issue (no-fault laws), these cases are litigated under general negligence principles. The injured plaintiff is required to prove that the defendant was negligent, that the negligence caused the accident, and that the accident caused the plaintiff’s injuries. As with other types of accidents, figuring out who is at fault in a traffic accident is a matter of deciding who was negligent. In many cases your instincts will tell you that a driver, cyclist or pedestrian acted carelessly, but not what rule or rules that person violated.

Your case can be strengthened if you find some “official” support for your conclusion. To help determine who was at fault for your accident, your attorney will look to a number of sources, such as police reports, state traffic laws and witnesses. In any given case many of personal injury actions and several theories of fault may apply. Discussing your case with a personal injury attorney is the best way to have a thorough evaluation of the likelihood of success. In light of the deadlines imposed under state and federal laws for the filing of personal injury actions, if you think you might have a claim, you would be wise to meet with an attorney sooner rather than later.

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What is catastrophic injury?
How is this different from other personal injury?

A catastrophic injury or illness usually occurs suddenly and without warning. Injuries that are considered catastrophic, due to the enormous impact they have on the lives of the individuals who experience them, include the following:

  • brain injury
  • spinal cord injury
  • accidental amputation
  • severe burns
  • multiple fractures
  • other severe physical or neurological disorders

A catastrophic injury or illness very often causes severe disruption to the central nervous system, which in turn affects many other systems of the body. In addition to possible loss of movement, sensation, and communicative and cognitive abilities, the injury or illness may impact the respiratory, circulatory, integumentary (skin), urinary, gastrointestinal and other bodily systems. Management of such an injury is complex and requires the expertise of a team of health professionals including physicians, consultants, nurses, therapists and counselors. Clearly, the long-term needs of someone who has experienced this type of injury far surpass those of individuals with less severe injuries. Individuals may recover from some catastrophic injuries if they receive proper, early medical treatment; however, others may experience permanent disability, significant suffering and reduced life spans.

If a catastrophic injury was caused by the negligent or intentional act of another, or by a dangerous or defective product, a personal injury claim by the victim will be an integral factor in determining his or her future quality of life, including the quality of the medical care and other support he or she will receive. Because of the huge financial implications a catastrophic injury has, one of the most important aspects of bringing a personal injury claim is the determination of the value of such a claim. A person whose earning capacity has been substantially impacted and who is likely facing a lifetime of care requires an experienced attorney, with specialized knowledge of his or her particular type of injury, to ensure that the injured person obtains all the financial support he or she will need, possibly for decades to come.

The long-term implications of many catastrophic injuries often do not surface or become apparent until some time after the original injury. For example, individuals who are injured as children may experience changes in their abilities/disabilities as they grow, requiring surgeries or other medical intervention to accommodate their growth. Similarly, a burn victim might continue to undergo reconstructive surgeries for many years after the original injury. Thus, an attorney who understands the long-term implications of such injuries will be better able to ensure the victims receive just compensation and sufficient resources for the future.

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How is catastrophic injury compensation determined?

Unfortunately, often only a small amount of insurance is available to compensate a catastrophically injured person, and it becomes necessary to seek alternative compensation or government assistance. This is one of the most important reasons for retaining an attorney with significant experience handling catastrophic injury claims. For instance, some of the worst, most dangerous drivers often carry the least amount of insurance allowed by law, or carry no insurance at all. In such cases, an injured party might be limited to recovering only up to the limits of his or her uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage benefits, which typically will fall far below the losses sustained. Also, contrary to popular belief, huge jury verdicts are rare, and most injury victims are under-compensated for their injuries.

For these reasons, it is important to seek the assistance of an attorney who has experience with catastrophic injury cases. Such an attorney will consider and know how to reach every possible source of recovery in a personal injury claim.

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