Personal Injury Frequently Asked Questions
Boston Personal Injury Resources
Personal injury law is complex and a trap for the unwary. Brief and generalized answers to some of the more frequently asked questions can be found here. If you need additional information, call or e-mail Attorney Topazio directly regarding your specific concern.
Q. Why Hire a Personal Injury Attorney?
When you’re injured, you need all the help you can get, and you need it as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that means that some injury victims pick the first attorney they find rather than making an informed choice. Before you hire a personal injury attorney, it’s important to educate yourself and find the right fit for you and your case.
Q. What is liability insurance?
If you are at fault in a car accident, liability insurance pays for the damages that you cause to someone else. It does not pay for your own damages. There are two kinds of liability insurance: bodily injury and property damage. Bodily injury expenses include medical bills, rehabilitation expenses, and lost wages. Property damage expenses include the repair or replacement of any items belonging to another person that you damage or destroy.
Every state except Mississippi, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Wisconsin requires some level of liability coverage. To find out what your state requires, you can check with your state department of insurance, or you can refer to http://www.insure.com/auto/. There you can find information about minimum coverage requirements, along with links to websites maintained by each state’s department of insurance.
Q. Who is usually covered by automobile liability insurance?
Liability insurance usually covers the following people:
Named insured. This is the person or people named in the policy, no matter what car they are driving.
Spouse. Even if the spouse of the named insured is not named on a policy, liability insurance almost always covers him or her, unless the couple does not live together.
Other relative. This refers to anyone living in the household with the named insured who is related to the insured by blood, marriage or adoption, usually including a legal ward or foster child.
Anyone driving the insured vehicle with permission. Someone who steals the car is not covered.
Q: I have been in a motor vehicle accident. Should I go to a doctor?
Yes. If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, you should see a doctor right away. Firstly, you should see a doctor for your own well-being. You may not be able to discern the extent of your injuries yourself; a small ache could be something significant, or it could be nothing at all. Only a doctor can tell you for sure. Secondly, you should see a doctor because if you decide to bring a legal claim against the at-fault driver or another party, you will need documentation of your injuries and what you did to fix them. An insurance company will interpret your failure to seek medical attention to mean that you were not hurt, regardless of your injury.
Q. What if Personal Injuries Result in Death? “Wrongful Death Cases”
In general, a wrongful death claim is one in which it is alleged that a person died as a result of another’s negligence. The deceased person’s surviving relatives, dependents, or beneficiaries may bring suit against the responsible party or parties, seeking monetary damages for their losses. Each state has its own wrongful death law and not every state follows the same guidelines, principles, or rules. A personal injury attorney at our firm can advise you on whether you have a valid wrongful death claim and can help you pursue that claim against the responsible party or parties.
Q: How do I know if I have a personal injury case?
First, you must have suffered an injury to your person or property. Second, you should consider whether your injury was someone else’s fault. It is not always necessary to have a physical injury to bring a personal injury lawsuit. Some personal injury claims could be based on a variety of nonphysical losses and harms. In the case of an assault, for example, you do not need to show that a person’s action caused you actual physical harm, but only that you expected some harm to come to you. You also may have a case if someone has attacked your reputation, invaded your privacy, or inflicted emotional distress upon you.
Q: How soon after I am injured do I have to file a lawsuit?
Every state has certain time limits, called “statutes of limitations,” which govern the amount of time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit. In some states, you may have as little as one year to file a lawsuit arising out of an automobile accident. If you miss the deadline for filing your case, you may lose your legal right to damages for your injury. Consequently, it is important to talk with a lawyer as soon as you suffer or discover an injury.
Q: Are there parties other than the at-fault driver against whom I can take legal action?
If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, there may be parties other than the at-fault driver who share responsibility for what happened. If the accident occurred because the other driver was drunk, and a business served alcohol to the visibly intoxicated driver before the accident, your state’s dram shop law may allow you to hold the business liable; this varies from state to state. If a defect in one of the autos caused or worsened the accident, the vehicle manufacturer may be responsible for the injuries that resulted. Or a third party may have left debris in the road or caused one of the drivers involved in the accident to undertake a risky driving maneuver to avoid collision. Finally, if the owner of the car driven by the at-fault driver negligently allowed the driver to use the car, the owner may be liable, too.
Q: Do I have to go to court if I want to recover monetary damages?
Maybe. Your case may settle even before your attorney files a lawsuit; on the other hand, it may go all the way to a trial and a jury verdict. The majority of lawsuits are settled before they get to trial, but what happens in your case depends on the facts, the law and the parties involved.
Q: If the accident was my fault, can I still recover compensation?
Some states have no-fault insurance laws. Massachusetts is one of those no-fault insurance states. This means that you may be able to make some recovery of economic damages from your own insurance company under the personal injury protection section “PIP” regardless of fault. Recovery is limited to $8000.00 to cover loss wages, replacement services and medical expenses. In other states, if your fault is found to be over a certain level, it is more difficult to recover compensation. An attorney in your state can advise you on the rules in your area.
Q: How much is my personal injury case worth?
Your attorney can speak with you about this, but even attorneys can’t necessarily pinpoint what your case is worth until it is close to a resolution. Many factors, including the circumstances of the accident, the state of the drivers involved and the insurance companies influence the outcome. So do your medical bills, your loss of income and the nature of your injuries. An experienced lawyer can work with you to decide whether to pursue legal action and how to proceed.
Q: What if the insurance company offers me a check right away?
Before you accept anything – or sign anything – from an insurance company, be sure that you are aware of your legal rights and options. Accepting a check may mean that you are giving up your right to sue later on if you need extra medical care or you have to miss a lot of work. Consult an attorney before you negotiate with the insurance company.
Q: What if the other driver, who caused the accident, has no insurance?
Even though your state may require all drivers to carry a certain level of auto insurance, that doesn’t mean that everyone follows the law. This is why some states require insurance companies to offer drivers uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. If your insurance policy has this feature, then it may compensate you for some of your losses.
Q. When can Dog Owners be Held Liable?
A dog owner is strictly liable for dog bite injuries. Unfortunately, children are often involved in dog bite cases. Since younger children are often attracted to dogs and don’t understand when they’re exhibiting territorial or aggressive behavior, they can fall victim to vicious, devastating attacks. Even if physical scars vanish, emotional ones often take years to heal. If you or one of your children has been bitten by a dog, the Law Office of Steven J. Topazio can help you recover medical expenses and compensation for your pain and suffering. We recover damages to meet your child’s medical expenses while addressing the psychological effects that can leave children terrified and withdrawn.
Q. Can a person recover damages for injuries sustained on someone else’s property?
An owner of property has a duty to protect members of the public from injury that may occur upon the property. The injured person may be able to recover money for those injuries if he or she can prove that the property owner failed to meet that duty. The hurdle plaintiffs face is that the nature and extent of the property owner’s duty will vary depending upon the facts of the situation and the jurisdiction in question.
Some states focus upon, solely, the status of the injured visitor to the property. These states divide the potential status into three separate categories: invitee, licensee, and trespasser. An invitee is someone who has been invited onto the land because that person will confer some advantage to the property owner, such as a store patron. An owner of property is required to exercise reasonable care for the safety of the invitee. A licensee is someone who enters upon the land for his or her own purpose, and is present at the consent, but not the invitation, of the owner. For example, a door-to-door salesman who enters the property and stays to chat with the owner about the product that he is selling is a licensee. The owner’s duty to a licensee is only to warn of hidden dangers. For example, if the owner knew the front step was rotten and did not warn the salesman, the salesman may be able to recover if he thereafter falls through the step and injures himself. Finally, a trespasser is an individual who enters onto the property without the knowledge or consent of the owner and who remains there without any right or permission. Trespassers have difficulty suing property owners because property owners’ duty towards trespassers is not to place traps and hazards on their property. In some cases, the owner must also warn trespassers of the hazards if they are unlikely to be discovered by the trespasser and could cause serious injury or death.
Other states focus upon the condition of the property and the activities of both the visitor and owner, rather than considering only the status of the visitor. In these states, a uniform standard that requires the owner of the property to exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of invitees and licensees is generally applied. The plaintiff must prove that the duty of care has not been met, through an examination of the circumstances surrounding the entry on the property, the use to which the property is put, the foreseeability of the plaintiff’s injury, and the reasonableness of placing a warning or repairing the condition. Obviously, whether reasonable care has been rendered depends greatly upon the particular circumstances.
The property owner’s duty of care toward children is greater than the duty owed to adults. Even if the children are trespassers or engage in dangerous behavior, the property owner must still take precautions to prevent foreseeable harm to children. The classic example of a property owner’s greater duty of care to children arises in the context of backyard swimming pools. Owners must fence, gate, and lock their pools in a manner that keeps children out and if they fail to do so, they will be found liable for injuries to children, even if the children were trespassers that were warned to stay off the property.
Q. Is an owner of property liable for using deadly force to defend their property?
Generally speaking, an owner of property may not use deadly force to defend the property. Society values human life and bodily integrity much more than property. Therefore, the life, health and safety of an individual, even an intruder, is considered to be more valuable than the china or stereo which that individual is trying to steal.
An owner is not prohibited, however, from invoking self-help methods in defending property from another. An owner of property is entitled to use reasonable force to prevent someone, or something, from entering onto her property or to remove something from her property. What, under normal circumstances, may constitute a battery, assault, or other intentional tort, will not be considered unlawful in situations where it is performed as a reasonable use of self-help in defense of property. However, the use of force calculated to do great bodily harm, or cause death, is not permitted.
One narrow limitation upon the use of deadly force is authorized. Where an intruder threatens personal safety, as well as a threat to property, or where the intruder is committing a forcible felony, deadly force may be appropriate. For example, if a robber enters a home and, while stealing items, attempts to rape the homeowner, the owner may be justified in shooting the robber. However, an owner who witnesses a neighborhood child stealing a bicycle from the owner’s garage, without any threat of bodily harm, is not justified in shooting that child.
Q. What is a slip and fall action?
A slip and fall action is a type of personal injury lawsuit filed by a plaintiff who has been injured by a slip and fall, usually on the defendant’s property. Examples of very common slip and fall plaintiffs include the grocery store patron who slips on a liquid or a piece of food laying on the floor, and falls, causing injury to himself; and a hotel guest who slips in the shower and injures her back in the process.
The plaintiff in slip and fall cases must usually show that the owner of the property had notice or knowledge of the condition, and failed to clean it up and rectify it within a reasonable amount of time. If the plaintiff slipped on a grape that had been lying on the floor for two hours, and the manager of the store had walked past it and seen it five times before asking someone to clean it up, liability is likely.
If the plaintiff has knowingly encountered a hazard, then he or she may have trouble holding the defendant liable. For example, if a hotel guest squirts baby oil onto the floor of the shower; steps into the shower and attempts to do the jitterbug; and then falls and breaks an ankle, liability on the part of the hotel is highly doubtful. However, if the cleaning staff in the hotel repeatedly tells management that the non-skid treads in the bathtub for room 212 are missing and the hotel fails to replace them, the hotel will probably be liable for damages to a guest who is injured.
Learn More: Plaintiff’s Personal Injury Law
Personal injury actions require, by their very nature, that someone be injured. The requisite injury can either be physical or, in some cases, emotional. The general goal of personal injury actions is to place the blame for the injury on the party who caused it and to require them to compensate the injured for the losses sustained.
Not every injured plaintiff is entitled to recover damages for the injury he or she sustains. Besides an injury, the plaintiff must establish, through evidence, that the defendant is legally liable for his or her injuries. This requires proof of causation both in terms of actual, factual causation and legal causation. Whether legal causation is established depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular matter in question. The defendant can be held liable as a result of either the actions he took, or the actions he had a duty and failed to take.
Some personal injury actions revolve around legal causation derived from a concept of intentional conduct, whereby it is generally held that if one intentionally harms another, or knows that the conduct which is engaged in causes a substantial likelihood that harm will result, liability for the resulting harm will in fact attach. Other personal injury actions have as their legal causation a looser concept of fault called negligence. Under a negligence theory, in comparison, one is liable for the results of actions, or inaction, where an ordinary person in the same position should have foreseen that the conduct would create an unreasonable risk of harm to others. Still other types of personal injury actions are based on strict liability, a no-fault system where liability may attach regardless of the fault of the various parties, including the plaintiff.
In some situations, the defendant’s conduct, while questionable, does not rise to a level that entitles the plaintiff to a recovery. For example, if a plaintiff knowingly and willfully chooses to encounter a known hazard, the law holds that he or she has “assumed the risk of injury” and therefore the defendant is not liable. This theory applies for instance in a case where the plaintiff walks on an obvious build up of snow and ice caused by the defendant property owner’s failure to shovel his sidewalk, falls and breaks her hip, and is unable to recover for her injuries because she knew of the hazardous condition and willingly chose to encounter it. Plaintiffs are denied recovery in other cases if their subjective belief about a situation does not match an objective “reasonable person” standard. For instance, where the defendant approaches the plaintiff and states “I might poke you in the eye if you wear that red sweater again,” it is likely that no actionable assault occurred due to the fact that there was no immediate threat of harm that caused reasonable apprehension on the part of the plaintiff.
Personal injury law can involve many different types of claims, theories, and principles. Some of the more common, or interesting, types of personal injury actions include:
Animal bites can result in the animal owner’s liability to the person who is bitten or who is injured while trying to avoid a bite.
Assault and battery are two intentional torts that involve improper contact with another, without permission or consent, or the threat of such contact.
Aviation accidents quite often result in serious injury or death. When these accidents occur, serious questions regarding the liability of the airline, its employees, or the government may arise.
Motor vehicle accidents raise numerous questions as to the liability of one participant to another and also raise interesting questions regarding who should be responsible for covering the losses.
Premises liability concerns the responsibilities of owners and possessors of property to safeguard others from dangerous conditions or hazards on the property and to prevent others from being injured while on the property.
Property damage causes of action concern the rights of owners or possessors of property to protect their property from damage, theft or intrusion.
Slip and fall cases are very common causes of action and relate closely to the duty of an owner or possessor of land to maintain the property in a safe manner for the benefit of others lawfully entering upon the land.
Wrongful death actions may be brought by the dependents or beneficiaries of a deceased individual against the party whose action or inaction was causally related to the death.