Your Jacksonville Personal Injury Case: The Basics
The Atlantic Boulevard underpass of Kernan is filled with so much cross traffic it is a miracle that it's taken this long to get into an accident. Or perhaps your local grocer wasn't as diligent about mopping up that water puddle you slipped on in their produce aisle. Or maybe the hospital emergency room staff injected you with an allergen clearly listed in your medical file. Either way, you may be able to recovery monetary damages by filing a lawsuit. Here's some general information about typical Jacksonville personal injury lawsuits.
Types of Lawsuits
When you think of a personal injury case you are probably imagining a negligence lawsuit. Negligence governs injuries that were caused accidentally, which means you don't need to prove that the defendant hurt you intentionally (those cases are governed by intentional torts like battery). Negligence only requires you to prove that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care, and that this failure caused your injury.
Medical malpractice cases are similar to negligence but only apply to heath care professionals performing medical treatment. Malpractice law governs a surprisingly diverse range of conduct, including a misdiagnosis, unreasonable delay in treatment, and leaving a foreign object inside your body during surgery.
If injured by a poorly designed or manufactured product, you can sue the business that created the injury-causing product in a products liability lawsuit. In these cases, you must point out a design or manufacturing defect that caused your injury in a surprising way.
The dearly departed cannot file their own lawsuit, but any personal injury lawsuit the deceased could've brought (connected to their death) survives for their family members as a wrongful death lawsuit. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the unfair costs borne by the deceased individual's family members, such as lost wages, lost companionship and funeral expenses.
Initiating a Lawsuit
A personal injury lawsuit begins when you file a complaint, which is a brief description of the incident, the names the parties involved, and a request for compensation.
The only state courthouse in Jacksonville is the Duval County Courthouse, located at 501 W. Adams Street. Inside you'll find both the big-time Circuit Court for cases worth $15,000 or more, and the small-time County Court for cases worth less. The County Court also runs small claims court for lawsuits worth less than $5,000.
After your case is filed with the court, you need to serve a copy of the complaint, summons and Duval County civil cover sheet to all defendants. You can find a local process service company to personally hand the documents to the defendants so you can prove they obtained notice of the lawsuit should they fail to respond.
One must file a lawsuit within four years from the date of the injury. Florida's statute of limitations eliminates your right to recovery once too much time has passed, to prevent lawsuits from happening after memories have dimmed and evidence has disappeared. There is an even shorter two-year time limit for medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuits.
Technicalities like the statute of limitations demonstrate some of the value an experienced lawyer can bring to your case, so you may wish to consider scheduling a free consultation. Personal injury attorneys usually work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid a percentile of your settlement. This means they don't get paid unless and until you win and have every incentive to maximize your recovery.
Recovery will typically be monetary in nature and is broken down in two categories of damages. Economic damages represent the monetary expenditures and losses you suffered as a result of the injury, such as:
- medical expenses;
- lost income and employment opportunities;
- cost to repair or replace property.
Non-economic damages are far more subjective because they represent the "pain and suffering" a plaintiff bore due to the injury. The jury will reward non-economic damages to compensate for pain, or course, but also loss of enjoyment of life, fear and anxiety, sleeplessness, scarring and disfigurement.
Florida has a complicated sliding scale damage cap for non-economic awards in medical malpractice cases: for most cases, you will be unable to recover more than $500,000 in non-economic damages unless you suffered a "catastrophic injury."
Oftentimes the plaintiff somehow contributed to their own injury, for example by failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. Good news is that Florida allows partially responsible plaintiffs to still recover damages under their comparative negligence rule. The Florida comparative fault law requires juries to assign responsibility to each party and diminish the plaintiff's recovery by the percent he or she is responsible for. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an injury which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. Significantly, Florida is one of 13 states that uses a "pure" comparative negligence standard, which means that even if the injury was 99% your fault you can still recover 1%.
If you were injured at your place of work you may not need to file a lawsuit at all. In Florida any business with four or more employees must carry workers compensation insurance. This insurance pays out benefits to injured employees, including compensation for medical bills, temporary and permanent disability benefits and disfigurement benefits.
The first step to recovery is reporting the injury to your employer. You must report the accident within 30 days or else you risk forfeiting your benefits. Your employer should automatically report your claim to the Division of Workers Compensation. If you need more information, read through this thorough brochure provided by the state to guide injured employees through the procedure.
Personal injury law can be complicated and there's a lot to know. Read more on Findlaw's Personal Injury Law section. Last, but not least, if you have specific questions about a case, you may want to contact a local attorney specializing in personal injury law.
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