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Find the Right California Personal Injury Lawyer

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Hiring the Right California Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have been injured in an car or truck accident, involved in a workplace injury, a victim of medical malpractice or are just looking for legal advice about your situation, we recommend that you speak with a lawyer. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand the important legal concepts and ramifications surrounding your issue, and give you advice about a recommended course of action. The process of finding and working with the right lawyer can sometimes seem to be uncertain, but a short meeting with an attorney can often set your mind at ease and guide you towards a positive resolution.

Before you begin, there are some key issues you may want to consider as you start your search for an attorney. First, it is to your benefit to contact an attorney as soon as possible after your legal issue arises. If you wait to contact attorney, you could miss important deadlines that can affect your case or proceedings. Next, understand why you want to meet with a lawyer. Layout out the goals you hope to accomplish with them and understand the different billing methods that attorneys use. And finally, it is important to establish an open line of communication with your attorney as go through your legal process so that you are aware of unforeseen issues or complexities that may arise.

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Information About Personal Injury Law in California

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California Personal Injury Law

Accidents happen all the time in our day-to-day lives. Oftentimes they can’t be helped. Sometimes, however, they happen because of the fault of someone else. In these cases you are entitled under California personal injury law to file a claim for compensation for the damages caused by that accident. One of the most important and useful things you can do is to talk to a California personal injury lawyer. They will best be able to tell you how strong your case is and how to pursue a resolution, and often they won’t charge you for the first meeting and only collect if you win.

Personal injury law is similar across the US, but there each state has its specific code, and California is no exception. Here are some of the things you may need to know in determining whether to or how to file a personal injury claim in California.

Statute of Limitations: The Right Time to File

A statute of limitations is a rule that states that a plaintiff must file a claim for damages within a certain timeframe in order to receive any compensation—after this period the plaintiff loses this opportunity. In California, the statute of limitations is 2 years. Because claims take time and especially because of this statute of limitations, it is important to act quickly if you are thinking about filing a claim for damages due to a personal injury.

Exceptions to this rule

California allows four notable exceptions to this statute of limitations.

  • Children: Minors have until their 20th birthday to file a claim. In the case of medical malpractice, children either until the age of 8 or 3 years from the injury, whichever is greater.
  • Delayed Discovery: The delayed discovery rule allows a suit to be filed after the injury is discovered, as opposed to when the injury occurred. Normally this exception is reserved for those injuries where the injury could not have reasonably been discovered immediately after the event. The period of time during which the delayed discovery rule allows a suit to be filed varies depending on the circumstances, but it is normally pretty short. As a result, it is very important that as soon as you discover an injury you talk to a personal injury attorney in order to ensure you give yourself the best chance at receiving a settlement.
  • Tolling: The statute of limitations can also be extended if a plaintiff can prove that circumstances caused the statute of limitations to be shortened or "tolled." For example, the plaintiff may not have been mental aware during some period of time after the accident, or the defendant may have been bankrupt (bankruptcy often prevents claims from being filed).
  • Contract: The statute of limitations can also be shortened if both parties sign a contract to do so. You should contact an attorney to ensure that signing a contract like this is in your best interest, or to find loopholes out of such a contract in the event that it is preventing you from filing a claim.

Claims against any government entity typically have a shorter statute of limitations (6 months to a year). The statute of limitations is absolute, and once you have passed the specific timeframe, you cannot file a claim. (Just because one statute of limitations has passed, however, does not mean you cannot file a different type of claim that may have a longer statute of limitations.) That’s why it is very important to consult an attorney as soon as you suspect you have an injury worthy of filing a claim.

First Steps to Filing a Claim:

There are four steps you need to take if you think you have a viable personal injury claim.

  1. Make sure you are injured: Consult a medical doctor to get an expert opinion of the injury and its cause.
  2. Talk to a legal professional: You should talk to a legal professional as soon as you can to find out if you have a case and the right steps to take, especially because of the statute of limitations and other restrictions. Oftentimes they will not charge for a consultation.
  3. Document the circumstances: This depends on the type of injury, but because circumstances change quickly (whereas the law often doesn’t), you should always try to document the circumstances of the injury with photographs, videotape, testimony of witnesses, etc.
  4. Notify the defendant: Consult with a legal professional to find out if this is necessary and how soon, but the law sometimes requires that you notify the defendant that you are filing a claim within a certain time period, especially if it is against a government entity. Sometimes this may be as short as within 30 days.

 

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Types of Liability

  • Intentional: This type of claim states that the defendant intentionally harmed or injured the plaintiff.
  • Negligence: This type of claim depends on the defendant being negligent in his/her actions, which caused an injury to your person.
  • Strict Liability: In California there are two scenarios where the doctrine of strict liability operates: product defects and injuries caused by animals.

Establishing Liability

  • Intentional: To establish intentional liability, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant intended to injure the plaintiff, and that the plaintiff was injured.
  • Negligence: To win a negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove four things:
  1. Duty: The defendant had a responsibility to avoid inflicting an injury the plaintiff from the injury he/she suffered. This could be as simple as proving that a reasonable person would and should have taken certain protective measures.
  2. Breach: The defendant did not reasonably fulfill that responsibility.
  3. Proximate Cause: The breach of duty caused the plaintiff’s injury.
  4. Injury: The plaintiff actually sustained an injury that was damaging to him/her.
  • Strict Liability: To win a strict liability claim, the plaintiff must simply prove that an injury was sustained from either the defendant’s product or the defendant’s animal.

Determining the amount of the award

A personal injury claim is unlike a criminal case in that to win a personal injury claim, the plaintiff only has to prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant is guilty—they need to show a "preponderance of evidence." Once this is proved, the task that remains is determining how much the plaintiff should be awarded. The factors that go into determining this figure varies on a case by case basis, but they commonly include things like lost wages, medical expenses, compensations for physical or psychological pain/suffering and loss of normal life. There are also often punitive damages assessed that are meant to be a penalty for and to prevent reckless/dangerous behavior that can cause future harm. An important thing about California personal injury law that is somewhat specific to the state is the fact that California has adopted a pure comparative negligence doctrine in determining awards. Comparative negligence means that the plaintiff is awarded compensation based on what part of the injury the defendant was responsible for. So if a jury finds that the defendant is 75% responsible for the injury while the plaintiff is 25% responsible, the plaintiff is awarded only 25% of the calculated expenses. Being a "pure" comparative negligence state means that even if the majority of fault or negligence is on the part of the plaintiff, he/she can still sue for damages. So even if the defendant is found to be only responsible for 5% of the injury, he/she still has to pay 5% of the calculated expenses.

Multiple defendants

In the case that there is more than one person responsible for the injury, the damages are divided in a manner similar to comparative negligence: based on what percentage of the injury each person is responsible for. This prevents defendants who are only slightly responsible for the injury from having to pay the full amount of the damages, a scenario that often occurred before California adopted this rule. This is called being "severally" liable, but not "jointly."

Also of note, in the case of produce defects, anyone and everyone involved in the chain of distribution, from manufacturers to the people selling the product is liable for the damages.

Indirect (vicarious) liability

Sometimes an individual can be indirectly liable for an injury. This happens when one person’s negligence causes another’s actions to injure someone. Notably, this is true with employers and their employees, and with those who sell alcohol to minors and the injuries that minor causes while intoxicated.

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