Personal injury lawsuits seek to compensate wrongfully injured people who have been injured by the negligent actions of others. These claims help to compensate the injured parties for the cost of medical treatment and lost income, as well as more intangible losses, such as pain, suffering and the loss of enjoyment of life. Personal injury lawsuits also serve to deter future negligent behavior that can harm others.
Q: What is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
A: A personal injury lawsuit is sometimes called a tort, or a civil wrong that results in damages or injury. A personal injury claim may become available to someone after they are harmed and suffer damages due to the negligence of another person or entity. Some common personal injury claims involve:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Slip/trip and falls
- Products liability/defective drug claims
- Medical malpractice
- Work accidents
- Dog bites
- Nursing home abuse
Q: What is Negligence?
A: This is a legal term that describes a person or entity's failure to meet an applicable standard of care under a given set of facts. The law looks at how a reasonable person under similar circumstances would have behaved. If the party's actions fail to rise to the standard of care, they can be found negligent, regardless of intent to harm.
Q: What happens if I am partially at fault for an accident?
A: Even if you share some of the fault for an accident, you may still be able to recover compensation in a personal injury case. However, the amount you recover will likely be reduced in direct proportion to your own fault. New Jersey observes the modified comparative negligence rule. Essentially, your damages are reduced by your own percentage share of fault for causing the accident. To recover anything at trial in NJ, a jury must find you no more than 50 percent at fault for the accident. If you you meet that threshold, the amount of compensatory damages you are eligible to receive will be decreased in proportion to your own percentage share of fault.
Q: How long do I have to file my claim?
A: The law sets time limits for filing a personal injury lawsuit. These are called statutes of limitations. In New Jersey, you generally have two years from the date of the injury to file suit, subject to certain exceptions, as in cases involving municipal and government entities. Typically, the clock starts running the day that the injury accrues, or the date that you are injured. However, in some instances, the statute of limitations doesn’t beginning running until later, when you first discover an injury or reasonably should have discovered the injury, as in the case of injuries caused by asbestos exposure. Special rules also apply to injured minors, who typically have until two years after their 18th birthday to file suit. The exception to this is birth injuries, in which case the deadline to file suit is the injured child’s 13th birthday.
Q: What are Punitive Damages?
A: There are two main types of damages that can be awarded in personal injury cases: compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are damages that reimburse the victim for their economic and noneconomic losses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Compensatory damages make the plaintiff "whole" again.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, are designed to punish the responsible party when their actions are particularly outrageous or egregious. In NJ, punitive damages are limited to 5 times the amount of compensatory damages awarded in a case, or $350,000, whichever amount is greater.
Q: Is there a limit to how much money I can receive for my accident?
A: New Jersey law places no limit on the amount of compensatory damages that can be awarded by a jury, whereas punitive damages are capped at either $350,000 or five time the compensatory damages award, whichever is higher.
Q: I've heard about Strict Liability claims. What are these?
A: New Jersey observes the strict liability rule in certain personal injury matters, such as dog bite and product liability cases. Unlike other personal injury claims, you don’t need to prove the negligence of the responsible party in a strict liability case. Rather, there exists a rebuttable presumption that the defendant was negligent. Thus, where strict liability applies, the burden of proof is essentially shifted to the defendant to prove that they were not negligent for causing the plaintiff's injuries.
Q: How much can I recover for my injury?
A: This is probably the most common question asked by clients, and the hardest to answer generically. The value of personal injury cases must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Factors, such as the type of injury, resulting disabilities, effect of the injury on plaintiff, and evidence regarding liability all must be considered in assessing the value of a case. The following considerations are key in determining the value of a case:
- Liability of the defendants
- Comparative negligence of the plaintiff
- Past medical bills and required future expenses
- Ability to work and earn wages in the future
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Extent of noneconomic damages (pain, suffering, disability, impairment, loss of enjoyment of life)
If you have questions or would like discuss a New Jersey personal injury claim, contact The Reinartz Law Firm to schedule a free and confidential consultation.