Frequently Asked Questions about Indiana Personal Injury Cases
If you have been injured in an accident or case of medical malpractice and are pursuing a claim against the negligent party, it is natural that you may have many questions about what to expect from this unfamiliar process. Below are answers to questions often asked of the personal injury lawyers at Lee & Fairman as they help people like you in Indianapolis and statewide get the money they need and deserve after an Indiana car or truck accident or other personal injury. If you have other questions or would like to speak with an attorney about your potential claims, call 317-631-5151 for a no-cost, confidential consultation.
Q. The insurance company says I was partly to blame in causing the accident and won’t pay my claim. Can they do that?
A. Personal injury cases in Indiana are subject to a system of comparative negligence or comparative fault. What this means is that if you are found to be partially at fault, then the amount of your award will be reduced proportionately. For instance, if you are ten percent at fault, you will only receive 90% of your damages. If you are found to be more than 50% to blame, then you cannot recover anything at all.
Insurance companies use this law to try to shift as much of the blame onto you as they can, to lower the amount they have to pay or to get out of paying anything at all if possible. Don’t let the insurance company tell you who was at fault. This question is ultimately decided by a jury, and if you are being unfairly pinned with the blame for causing the accident, our lawyers will take your case to court and let a jury decide.
Q. What are punitive damages?
A. For the most part, when you are injured by the negligence of another, you will be looking to receive compensatory damages – in other words, money to compensate you for your losses, such as medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. In some cases, it may be appropriate to seek punitive damages. Instead of compensating you for your loss, punitive damages are meant to punish the negligent defendant for particularly bad behavior. As such, punitive damages are usually only sought in cases where the defendant’s conduct was willful, wanton, malicious, particularly reckless or grossly negligent. Most cases do not include punitive damages.
In Indiana, a punitive damage award is limited to the greater of $50,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded in a case. The plaintiff only receives 25% of the punitive damages award, while the rest goes into the Indiana Violent Crime Victim Compensation Fund. The facts justifying punitive damages must also be proved by “clear and convincing evidence,” which is a higher standard than what must be met to prove compensatory damages. Although it is more difficult to obtain punitive damages, our attorneys will seek them in appropriate cases.
Q. Will I have to go to court as part of my personal injury case?
A. The vast majority of personal injury cases settle out of court; only a tiny fraction go to trial. However, it is absolutely essential to hire a law firm who is experienced in trying cases and who will prepare your case for trial from day one. This approach is more likely to get you the best possible settlement, even if a trial is not eventually needed. If trial does become necessary, you and your attorney will be well-prepared for a successful outcome.
Q. What if I can’t afford a lawyer?
A. Many personal injury law firms, including Lee & Fairman, may offer to take your case on a contingency fee basis. This means that you are only charged a fee if your case is successful and you receive a financial recovery. Also, the attorney’s fee will be taken out of the settlement or verdict, so you never have to pay the fee directly out of your own pocket. Additionally, sizable law firms like Lee & Fairman have the resources to advance all the costs of litigation, including court costs and filing fees, expert witness fees, accident reconstruction, etc. These costs can be recouped by the law firm from the settlement amount. This way, you are never out any costs up-front in order to have an attorney represent you and pursue your case.
The contingency fee arrangement creates a powerful incentive for the lawyer to work hard and get the best result possible, while also ensuring that even people of modest means can afford to have the very best quality of legal representation.
Q. How long do I have to bring a claim?
A. Generally speaking, you have two years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. If you wait longer than this period, known as the statute of limitations, you can be prohibited from filing a lawsuit, which may be necessary to recover compensation for your injuries. Although two years is the general rule for personal injury claims, this time period can be longer or shorter depending upon special circumstances, such as the age of the victim, whether the injury was caused by medical malpractice, and whether the injury was caused by a public employee, government vehicle or on government property.
It is important in any event to contact an attorney soon after the accident. Your lawyer will want to get started right away collecting and preserving important evidence and witness testimony while it is still fresh, and can direct you on the proper steps to take to maximize your claim. It is easy to let time slip away from you while you are dealing with your own physical recovery and paperwork from doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, etc. If you wait until the statute of limitations is about to expire before contacting an attorney, you may hurt your chances at obtaining a positive result on your claim. In and around Indianapolis, call Lee & Fairman at 317-631-5151 for assistance.