If you’ve been injured, your mind is probably swirling with questions... everything from how to get medical treatment to who’s responsible for paying those bills.
And, what happens next?
Fear not! Enjuris has answers.
This list of questions and answers can guide you through the North Carolina legal process for what to do after an injury.
A: Not every injury leads to a legal claim. A personal injury lawsuit is how you can recover damages (costs) related to your injury.
The basis for personal injury claims is “tort” law. A tort is a wrongful act or omission that results in injury or damages.
In order for an injury to be a claim for damages, it must cost you money. The purpose of a civil lawsuit for a personal injury is to make the plaintiff whole. In other words, the injured person can recover the amount of money they deserve to restore them to the financial condition they would have been in if the injury had never happened.
You might see news stories where plaintiffs recover millions of dollars in damages after car accidents, illnesses from chemical exposures, or other injuries. Yes, those damage awards sound like a lot of money — but so is a lifetime of expenses if an accident leaves you disabled and unable to work, not to mention medical treatment for a serious injury.
A slip-and-fall that results in a sprain or bruise that you self-treat at home or an accident that leaves you with whiplash that doesn’t require medical treatment might make you feel angry at the person who injured you, but it doesn’t give rise to a lawsuit unless it cost you money.
A: You can sue a defendant in the civil legal system for financial damages.
There are situations when a personal injury is the result of a criminal act. For example, a car accident might lead to criminal charges if the driver was drunk or driving especially recklessly. There are also violent crimes that cause personal injury.
You, as an individual, cannot arrest or charge someone with a crime. If you believe that a crime has been committed against you, you can report it to your local law enforcement department. Law enforcement may arrest a defendant and charge them with a crime. You might be called as a witness in a criminal trial, and the penalty for being convicted of a crime is usually jail time or probation.
You may need to sue the defendant in civil court as a separate matter. The remedy for a personal injury lawsuit is a damage award (money).
A: You can recover damages to cover the economic and non-economic costs related to your injury. In some cases, you can also recover punitive damages.
There are 3 categories of damages: Economic, non-economic, and punitive:
A: Yes. In North Carolina, punitive damages may not exceed 3 times the amount of compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater.
The first exception to this rule is when the injury is from a car accident where the driver was impaired (i.e. drunk driving).
The second exception is for medical malpractice cases. In a medical malpractice claim, the non-economic damages (pain and suffering, mental anguish, etc.) are limited to $500,000, but there is no limit on punitive damages.
A: You must prove that a defendant was negligent in order to recover damages for a personal injury claim.
Negligence is the failure to take reasonable care in a situation when a person or entity can be reasonably expected to exercise care for someone else.
There are 4 elements to determining negligence:
In order to recover compensation for your claim, your lawyer must prove each of these elements by a preponderance of the evidence. That means they must convince the judge or jury that your version of events is more likely to be true than false. This burden of proof is lower than in criminal cases, which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
A: North Carolina follows a pure contributory negligence system of law, which means a plaintiff can’t recover damages if they are partially at fault.
Sometimes, accidents are the fault of 1 person, but might have been prevented if another person had acted differently or been more cautious. If the court finds that a plaintiff was liable for any portion of the accident, they cannot recover damages.
A: Most personal injury lawyers will recommend that you attempt to settle out of court. A lawsuit should be your last resort.
Your lawyer should negotiate with the defendant (or defendants) to try to arrive at a settlement that is enough to cover your damages and that’s agreeable to the other side. But sometimes parties reach an impasse, especially if there are questions about whether the defendant was truly liable for the injury or how much your injury is worth. If the parties really can’t agree on a fair settlement, there might be no choice but go to trial.
Here are some considerations before going to trial:
In some circumstances, a judge can order you to pay the defendant’s attorney fees if you lose at trial. That means you owe the defendant money, rather than recovering any money yourself.
A: The cost of a personal injury lawsuit depends on how long it takes and the complexity of the case.
Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. That means you only pay your lawyer if you receive a settlement or damage award. Your lawyer will be paid a percentage of whatever money you recover in the case. However, there might be up-front expenses related to the case — for example, your lawyer might charge you fees for expert witnesses, travel expenses, or other costs that they incur in handling your claim.
Some lawyers charge a certain percentage if a settlement is reached and raise their percentage if it goes to trial. This should be included in the retainer fee or contract you sign with your lawyer before they begin handling your case.
A: You can file a claim up to $10,000 in North Carolina small claims court.
Most people represent themselves in small claims court and don’t need a lawyer. If your claim is less than $10,000, a small claims court action might save you time and money.
If your claim is more than $10,000, it’s likely in your best interest to file a regular lawsuit and hire an attorney.
A: North Carolina personal injury statutes of limitations range between 1-10 years and vary by type of case.
|North Carolina statutes of limitations for personal injury lawsuits|
|Injury to person||3 years|
|Libel or slander||1 year|
|Loss of property||3 years|
|Professional malpractice||2-4 years after the last act of the defendant (legal malpractice), or 1-10 years after discovery of a foreign object left in the body (medical malpractice)|
|Rent collection||3 years|
|Judgment enforcement||10 years|
A: Not any lawyer will do. You want to look until you find the best fit.
Searching for the right lawyer is a bit like finding a doctor or therapist. A lawyer can be educated, qualified, and experienced in handling cases like yours. But that doesn’t mean they’re the right fit for you. You want a lawyer who listens, gives your case the time and attention it deserves, and understands your concerns and objectives.
Here’s how you can begin to find a lawyer:
Here are some additional resources to help you through the process of finding a lawyer who will be best-suited for handling your case: