Determine whether you have a viable claim
The first step in filing a personal injury lawsuit is determining whether you have a viable personal injury claim. If you or a family member was injured by the negligent or reckless actions of another person or company, you probably have a basis to seek payment for your damages, which is the monetary equivalent of past and future medical care for your injury, lost wages, diminished earning capacity, pain and suffering, and property damage, if any.
Family members may have derivative claims for their damages related to the loss of services and affection the injured family member provided. These derivative claims are known as loss of consortium claims.
Negligence occurs when a person or business fails to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would exercise under the same circumstances. The behavior usually consists of actions but can also be based on an omission when there is some duty to act. For instance, as attorneys, we owe a duty to protect plaintiffs from harm.
Recklessness is when a person engages in conduct with indifference to the consequences under circumstances that may imperil the life or safety of others, even though the actor may have no specific intent to cause harm.
If an insurance company might be responsible for paying your damages, as in the case of a car wreck, it may make an early offer of settlement. Be aware that accepting a settlement before you have an opportunity to seek thorough medical and legal advice is unwise because all your damages may not be readily apparent. If you accept a settlement, you forfeit your right to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Receive excellent legal advice regarding your personal injury claim by contacting Thornton Law Firm today online or by phone at 1-888-491-9726.
Gather the evidence
Now is the time to collect all your evidence and calculate your potential damages. You should gather the following documentation:
- Medical bills, including any paid by insurance or another party
- Employment records to support your lost wages claim
- A copy of the police report, if any
- Physical evidence of the accident, including pictures
- Videos of the accident scene, if applicable
- Affidavits from potential witnesses who can corroborate your version of the accident. Though affidavits are not admissible at trial, it is smart to have witnesses reduce their testimony to writing, because the affidavits can be used to refresh memories at trial if needed.
- Estimates for repairs or replacement of damaged property
- An estimate of your pain and suffering expense
- A requested punitive damage amount, if applicable
- Any other evidence that supports your claim
Decide where to file your claim
You may have more than one option when it comes to choosing a court to hear your claim. Known as forum shopping, the goal is to first decide which courts are technically eligible to hear your case and then to decide which of those courts is most friendly to plaintiffs with your type of personal injury claim.
Figuring out which courts have proper jurisdiction is a matter most attorneys understand by the first year of law school. But deciding with any confidence which court is likely to be most favorable to you requires either many years of experience practicing personal injury law in those jurisdictions or a hefty consulting fee paid to someone who knows the ropes.
Make sure that your claim has not expired
Check the statute of limitation that applies to your claim. Statutes of limitation bar lawsuits for personal injury and other types of cases after the expiration of statutorily defined time periods. The statute of limitations that applies to your case depends on the type of case and varies by state.
For example, in some states, personal injury lawsuits arising from car accidents are barred after two years from the date of the accident. For latent personal injury claims, such as mesothelioma cases, the clock begins to run when a patient is diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness. Lawsuits against government entities have special requirements with even shorter time restrictions.
Draft your complaint properly
The complaint is a formal legal document you file to commence litigation. The complaint should outline the facts of your case and the reasons you are entitled to monetary relief. You must include the defendant’s name and additional fictitious defendants if additional parties may be liable but you don’t know their names yet. The fictitious defendants serve as placeholders so actual defendants can be substituted later.
It is critical that your complaint alleges all the elements necessary to establish a right to recover under your particular liability theory. Failing to sufficiently state a claim that, if true, entitles you to relief can result in the dismissal of your case altogether, putting you back at square one.
File your complaint and pay the filing fee
Courts require a filing fee when you file your complaint. Filing fees vary greatly from one jurisdiction to the next and can range anywhere from $200 to several thousand dollars, depending on the type of case, location, number of defendants and other factors. Courts waive some filing fees in you have a hardship.
Serve the complaint and summons on the defendant
Service rules vary by state and jurisdiction, but the general rules are that a summons and copy of the complaint must be given to the defendant or the defendant’s authorized representative by someone other than the plaintiff. The court clerk where you file the complaint can tell you whether the sheriff attempts to deliver the summons and complaint or whether you must arrange delivery on your own according to one of the methods permitted by that jurisdiction.
Think about what you’d rather be doing
Of course, if you let our experienced personal injury attorneys handle your case, we do all the legwork and head-scratching for you, leaving you to the business of getting better. When we work for you, your job is to recover physically while we help you recover financially. Thornton Law Firm LLP is an industry leader and one of the largest personal injury firms in Massachusetts.
Call us for a free consultation
Protecting clients for 40 years, Thornton Law Firm LLP is here when you need us most. Our personal injury attorneys provide reliable legal services on a contingency-fee basis, so if we don’t win your case, you don’t pay. We handle a broad range of personal injury cases and have the resources to pursue your claim efficiently and effectively. Call 1-888-491-9726 or contact us online to arrange a free consultation.