Personal Injury Cases

The following information was discussed by Attorney Whitney Hughes on the July 15, 2008 edition of Legal Briefs on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live Show.

We are constantly seeing advertisements that tell us we are entitled to money if we are injured. Many times people still have questions about the strength of their claim and how one goes about finding and hiring an attorney to assist them. Below are some common questions about and some helpful tips for handling a personal injury lawsuit.

What is a personal injury case?

Personal injury cases are brought when a person suffers physical or emotional harm brought about by the actions or negligence of another person, company, or business.

There are several different types of personal injury claims such as:

  • Auto accident
  • Slip and fall
  • Medical, legal, and dental malpractice
  • Products liability claims
  • Dog bites

How long do I have to file a lawsuit?

The general rule is that you have two years from the date you are injured to file any type of personal injury lawsuit. Pennsylvania also has a discovery rule which says that the statute of limitations begins to run from the time that you know or should have known that you were injured by someone else.

For minors, the statute of limitations begins to run from the date they turn eighteen. They then have two years from that date to file a lawsuit. Emancipated minors must file within two years from the date of the injury.

Where do I file the lawsuit? Can't most attorneys practice anywhere?

Any legal action must be taken in the place you were injured. For example, if you were travelling to visit your family in New York and were injured in the state of New York, you must file the lawsuit there. While attorneys may be licensed in more than one place, they will charge you for their travel time. It is always best to find an attorney in or close to the area where the lawsuit will be filed.

All of the ads I'm seeing say the attorneys don't charge unless I win. Is this true, and how much will an attorney really cost?

As with any legal matter, all attorneys fees are different. Most attorneys offer a free consultation for personal injury cases, and so does the Allegheny County Bar Association.

Many attorneys will charge what is called a contingent fee.

A contingent fee is when an attorney does not get paid for his work unless and until you receive any money or award from the person who injured you. An attorney's fee is very different from the costs of bringing the lawsuit. Keep in mind that even if an attorney charges a contingent fee, you will still be responsible for paying the costs to bring the lawsuit and may even have to pay some costs up front such as fees for expert reports and costs. Even if an attorney will pay some of the costs up front, he/she will still require you to pay them back at the end of the case.

I've been injured. What now?

  1. First of all and most importantly, if you need medical attention, get it.
  2. For auto accidents make sure you contact the police, and then get all of the other party's information.
    1. Name
    2. Address
    3. Phone Number
    4. Driver's License and Insurance Information
    5. Car make and model number

  3. Get the name and addresses of all witnesses.
  4. Do not make any statements to anyone, especially anything that would indicate the accident is your fault.
  5. If possible, take photographs and make sure you preserve any evidence.
  6. Contact an attorney. You may be contacted by an insurance company attempting to offer you a settlement, and it is very important that you preserve your rights.

I was injured some time ago, thought I was fine and signed a settlement. Now my injuries are much worse than I thought. What now?

Unfortunately, if you have signed a settlement you are not likely able to sue. Most settlements include your waiver of any rights to bring a lawsuit. Even if you are still within the two year statute of limitations, if you have signed a settlement, you're out of luck.

I was injured and I'm within the two year time frame to file a lawsuit. I have called several attorneys but I can't find anyone interested in handling the case. Why not?

There are many reasons why an attorney may not handle your case. Usually, most cases are turned down for one of two reasons - the amount you may recover is small, or the person you wish to sue makes success unlikely.

It is very expensive to bring a successful lawsuit. Costs may include paying for records to be copied, doctors reports, expert reports, etc. In addition to this you will have to pay for both the attorney's time and the time of his/her support staff, such as paralegals. If the amount that you are suing to recover is less than all of those costs, an attorney is not likely to accept that case. When the other party you wish to sue is someone who has no insurance coverage or a limited amount of assets, it becomes more difficult to recover any money whatsoever. In addition to this, there are certain types of individuals or business that are immune from lawsuits such as public officials acting within their capacity or government entities. If you are attempting to sue someone who falls into one of those categories, you are unlikely to find anyone willing to accept the case.

For a free 30 minute consultation for a personal injury claim, contact the ACBA Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555 or visit the website by clicking here.