When You File a Lawsuit and There is a Settlement or Verdict, Who Pays for Your Injuries?
Summary: According to Pennsylvania law, generally if you have been injured and someone else is legally responsible, that person or company may owe you compensation.
When you file a lawsuit for personal injury, if the negligent party has enough insurance, it may be the insurance company that will pay. This may or may not be the case if there are punitive damages, that is, damages awarded because of intentional or reckless conduct. If there is no insurance, you may be able to collect directly from the party legally responsible.
You are the one who has to suffer the consequences of their negligence – living with your injuries, medical and hospital bills, possible loss of earnings, disfigurement, pain and suffering, and loss of life’s pleasures. While no settlement can undo the affect on your life, receiving just compensation can remove the financial burdens, pay for therapy and rehabilitation, and help you move forward with your life.
However, Pennsylvania personal injury law is complex, and it is very difficult to win compensation on your own. Insurance companies will do everything they can to pay you as little as possible, and if your case is not handled correctly, you may never collect the compensation you are entitled to. To make sure you get the settlement you deserve, you should contact an experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Who is at Fault?
To win a lawsuit, you and your attorney must prove that another party was negligent and at fault in causing your injury. This means:
- The party had a responsibility not to injure you but failed to live up to that responsibility.
- There is a connection between the other party's responsibility and your injury.
- You suffered damages, or a financial loss, as a result.
A person is considered to be negligent when failing to act like an “ordinary reasonable person” would have acted in the situation. This determination may be decided by a jury after presentation of evidence and argument at trial. To win a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence, your attorney must prove that a “preponderance” or majority of the evidence shows that the injury was caused by the defendant’s negligent actions. “Preponderance” is often referred to in the law as tipping the scales ever so slightly in favor of the party who is hurt. If the scales are equally balanced, there is no recovery. There are occasions when there may be comparative negligence or even assumption of the risk.
There are times when people or companies may be held “strictly liable” for harming others, even if they have not acted negligently. This may occur if injury is due to a defective or unexpectedly dangerous product or due to using explosives, storing dangerous substances, or keeping dangerous animals if harm resulted. Cliff Rieders has been a leading authority on the question of products liability. Cliff served on the American Law Institute Consultative Group with respect to products liability law promulgated throughout the United States. Rieders also serves on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Standard Jury Instruction Committee. Cliff has written many amicus curiae briefs concerning products liability in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania has a “modified comparative negligence rule.” Compensation is reduced by an amount equal to your percentage of fault. If you are more than 50 percent at fault, you cannot collect anything from other at-fault parties. The law is different in products liability cases. New laws in Pennsylvania dealing with joint and several liability may also come into play.
What Compensation Can I Receive?
If you win a lawsuit, a judge or jury will award you money, known as damages, for your injuries. The amount depends upon the details and circumstances of your case, such as how badly you were harmed, how carelessly the other party acted, how much pain and suffering you endured, and the cost of your medical expenses. If you are seriously injured, need surgery, have large medical bills, miss a great deal of time from work, or are unable to work again, your personal injury case is worth more money.
In Pennsylvania, compensated costs and losses fall into two categories: economic damages, and non-economic damages.
- Economic damages are expenses which can be objectively calculated, such as medical, hospital, therapy, equipment, and rehabilitation costs, lost income and lost future income, property damage, and funeral and burial costs.
- Non-economic damages may include pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of life’s pleasures, and loss of services of a spouse.
In rare cases, victims may be awarded “punitive damages,” which are designed to punish defendants who have behaved recklessly in order to discourage people from engaging in the same kind of harmful behavior in the future.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
The following are common causes of personal injury lawsuits:
- Motor Vehicle Accidents
- Animal Attacks, Dog Bites
- Dangerous or Defective Product Injuries
- Slip and Fall Accidents
- Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
- Medical Malpractice
- Birth Injuries
In Pennsylvania, there is a statute of limitations of two years from the date of an injury to file a lawsuit in the state’s civil court system. (42 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. section 5524). You must file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out or the Pennsylvania civil court system will likely refuse to hear your case, and you will lose the right to get compensation. There are different statutes of limitations which apply differently depending upon the nature of the claim. For example, in medical malpractice there is a specific statute dealing with statute of limitations and the statute of repose. There are other statutes that apply to products liability cases. There are special statutes that apply to claims in connection with construction.
If your claim is against a city, county, or state government agency, you must file a notice of intent to sue within 6 months. This does not apply in the civil rights context, when state and municipal government is guilty of deliberate indifference. Further, there are laws that apply in making claims against the federal government, such as the Federal Tort Claims Act. There are many state statutes that grant or restrict compensation.
How Does My Attorney Get Paid?
Typically, in personal injury cases, the attorney receives payment through a contingency fee agreement. Attorneys often pay out the costs for filing the case and do not get paid themselves until a settlement is reached. At that time, the attorney gets a percentage of the settlement funds.
No short introduction could possibly list all the permutations, questions, statutes and considerations in connection with the filing of a lawsuit for personal injuries. There are times when state law applies, and times when federal law may apply. Law and cases from our appellate courts may significantly affect the result. Make sure you hire somebody who is experienced and knows what they are doing.
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