Being involved in a car crash can be a life-altering event. Even if you fully recover from the physical injuries you may have suffered, the accident may still affect you in ways that you won’t truly appreciate until many years later.
To compensate you for the physical and mental injuries you may have received, we purchase automobile insurance.
However, just because you were in an accident and may very well have suffered significant and serious injuries, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are entitled to a recovery in the State of North Carolina.
If you are wondering whether you may have a claim for personal injury damages, you need to start by asking yourself 3 fundamental questions:
1. Did you suffer a personal injury of some sort, and not just property damage to your vehicle?
2. Were your injuries caused by the negligence (more on that in a bit) of another person or entity?
3. Do you have recoverable damages?
Assuming the answer to all of those questions is “yes”, you must ask yourself one other question.
Did your own negligence contribute to the accident?
If the answer to that question is also “yes”, then you may be barred from recovering damages in North Carolina. However, before you start talking to an adjuster, it may be wise for you to contact a personal injury lawyer to help you, or else review our article on the exceptions to contributory negligence.
Assuming that you were NOT contributory negligent, than you may be able to recover a financial settlement for your injuries by either filing a claim with the insurance company or by bringing a personal injury lawsuit.
However, before you get all excited, you must understand that there are a number of different factors that may impact the outcome of a personal injury claim. And while this guide will give you a lot of great information about whether you have a claim and how to navigate the claims process on your own, it should not be considered a substitute for good legal advice and guidance from a personal injury lawyer. To fully understand your rights and potential remedies, we highly recommend that you seek out a personal injury lawyer. You may call our office at (919) 460-5422 or fill out this online contact form.
1. Did You Suffer a Personal Injury?
In order to bring a lawsuit or claim for personal injury, you must have suffered a personal injury! I realize that sounds silly, but you would be amazed at how many people call us seeking to file a lawsuit for an accident when they weren’t actually hurt and therefore didn’t have any damages.
A personal injury includes an injury to your physical body, your mind, or your emotions. What this means is that your injuries can be either physical or emotional.
If you broke your leg, suffered severe scarring to your face, or herniated a disc in your back – those are all considered personal injuries. But if you were involved in a horrific accident, with only minor physical damages, but now suffer from anxiety, post traumatic stress, insomnia, or panic attics, those injuries can be just as severe as the physical injuries.
And while mental injuries (often referred to as “pain and suffering”) are more difficult to prove to a jury, they are still very real and considered as a type of personal injury in North Carolina.
Note that a personal injury is different than property damage. If you were involved in a minor fender bender that caused only minimal damage to your car and no physical injuries, then you have not suffered a “personal injury”. It is possible that a sympathetic claims adjuster may throw you a little bit of money to make your claim go away, but you would not be able to recover damages from a jury.
2. Were Your Injuries Caused by the Negligence of Another Person or Entity?
In order to proceed on a claim for personal injury, your injuries must have been caused by the negligence of another person or entity. In general, if another person acts carelessly and their carelessness is the cause of someone else’s personal injuries, than the careless party (or their insurance company) will be held liable for your injuries under the legal doctrine of negligence.
Negligence is defined under the law as one parties failure to behave with the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised under the same set of circumstances.
When bringing a lawsuit for personal injuries under a theory of negligence, the plaintiff (or injured party) must prove four distinct elements to recover money damages. These elements must all be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence” to show that the defendant (or person responsible for the injuries) acted negligently.
1. Duty: The defendant had a legal duty to behave in a certain way toward the plaintiff under the circumstances;
2. Breach: The defendant breached that duty by acting or failing to act in a certain way toward the plaintiff;
3. Causation: The actions (or inaction) of the defendant were the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injury; and
4. Harm: The plaintiff was injured or otherwise harmed as a result of the actions or inaction of the defendant, and money damages can remedy these harms.
3. Do You Have Recoverable Damages?
In order to recover on your claim, you just have suffered personal or financial harm that can be recovered by money damages. Damages are a fancy legal term that means the amount of money you can recover from the at-fault party to compensate them for the injuries they suffered or other losses.
If you are able to establish that another person acted carelessly in causing your injuries, you may be able to recover financial compensation. In some cases the insurance company will voluntarily agree to a settlement, and in other situations you may be required to go to court to ask the judge to order this payment. Some of the factors that may be taken into account when determining how much compensation you are entitled to include:
- The medical bills you incurred to treat your injuries;
- The physical and emotional pain and suffering that was caused by your injuries;
- The amount of time you took off work and the resulting wage loss;
- The reduction in your overall earning potential as a result of the injuries you suffered;
- Whether any disability accommodations were required to your vehicle and/or home;
- Your diminished quality of life;
- Loss of consortium, companionship, and/or support as a result of your injuries.
- These injuries comprise two main categories – economic damages (such as your medical bills and wage loss) and non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering and loss of companionship).
Economic damages are easy to calculate, generally speaking. At times a financial expert may need to be brought in to calculate the present value of the future loss of income.
Non-economic damages are not so straightforward, and frequently need to be argued to a jury because insurance adjusters don’t like to pay damages when those damages can’t readily be quantified through a medical bill or pay-stub.
Before you decide to file a lawsuit in court, you must be very careful to ascertain exactly who it is you need to sue, and whether or not they have the money to pay a judgement, should you be successful in court.
In auto accident cases, the other party typically has insurance that can pay your claim, and if they don’t have enough insurance you can bring a claim against your own underinsured motorists policy. This is one reason why we recommend that you buy as much car insurance as possible. It’s the cheapest type of insurance out there.
Should You File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
If, as you read through this post, you realized that you could answer “yes” to each of the preliminary questions asked above, then your next step should be to take a long, hard look at whether you were also negligent in causing the accident.
In North Carolina, if you were even 1% at fault in causing the accident, then you are not able to recover. Every case is different, and if you are unsure about this, then we recommend that you call us to discuss your case.
Filing a personal injury lawsuit can have serious legal and financial consequences and if you don’t know what you are doing, the defense lawyer hired by the at-fault parties insurance company surely does and is likely to run you out of court with a motion to dismiss before you even know what happened.
We recommend that before filing a lawsuit you consult with a personal injury lawyer to discuss your options and determine whether that is the appropriate course of action.
Click here to learn more about how to find and hire a lawyer for your personal injury claim.
Click here to return to the Personal Injury Claim Guide.
If you have a question for us, you can submit it confidentially online by clicking here. You can also call The Hart Law Firm at (919) 460-5422. We are happy to speak to you and answered any detailed questions you may have.