Your Raleigh Personal Injury Case: The Basics
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed August 08, 2017
If you’ve been injured in Raleigh, you may be wondering, “Can I sue for that?” The answer is “maybe.” That’s not too helpful, but the truth is that each case is different from the next, and results depend on the facts and individual circumstances surrounding the incident. North Carolina’s personal injury laws cover everything from slip and fall accidents to dangerous products, and more.
Figuring out where to begin is usually the first hurdle you’ll need to get over. Here’s some information to help fill you in on the typical process of a Raleigh personal injury case.
What are the Stages of a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
First things, first. You are injured because of someone else’s negligence. You might be at the Duke Raleigh Hospital Emergency Room or recovering at home. Bottom line is, you have been hurt and it wasn’t your fault.
Next, you might meet with a local personal injury lawyer to discuss your case. To proceed with a suit, a lawyer might negotiate with other parties to a case or may proceed to file a complaint in one of Raleigh’s courthouses. The clerk of the court then issues a summons (a legal notice informing a person that they have been named as a defendant in a legal action). The summons is served on (delivered to) the defendant by a Wake County sheriff or other law officer, or by mailing it by certified mail.
After that, the defendant will be required to file an answer in response to your complaint. The defendant could also file a counterclaim against you, and thereafter both sides can gather evidence and engage in the discovery process. A pre-trial conference may take place between the judge and attorneys to discuss a possible settlement. A mediator or arbitrator could be used to settle the case out of court, too.
However, if there is no settlement, a trial typically takes place. The jury will deliberate the outcome of the case until it reaches a verdict or becomes deadlocked. Finally, either party can appeal the decision to appellate courts.
What is the Statute of Limitations?
North Carolina recognizes a three-year statute of limitations on personal injury cases, which means that lawsuits cannot be filed more than two years after the accident. There are a few exceptions if one is a minor or judged incompetent.
If you’re injured, you should always see a doctor. Any pain is your body telling you something is wrong. So get checked out and be completely honest with your physician when explaining how an injury happened.
What About Gathering Evidence?
Gathering evidence early in the process can be very important. You can start by taking pictures of your physical injuries or the accident scene. You may wish to consider keeping a journal detailing your pain and suffering.
You should also speak to witnesses and collect their contact information. They can be helpful even if they only heard an accident and did not see it. People often do not know the true extent of the information they have processed.
Last, gather all your medical records, police reports, and other relevant documents.
How to Prove Fault in a Negligence Case
In order to win a negligence case, a plaintiff must prove the defendant was negligent or “at fault” for the injuries involved. Determining who is at fault isn’t always easy. It will depend on the particular circumstances. Lawyers rely on evidence collected from the scene, expert testimony, witnesses' statements, or any combination of these things.
North Carolina has a highly controversial rule called contributory negligence. That means an injured person may not be able to recover anything if he or she was even as little as 1 percent at fault in the accident.
The most common type of damages are awarded for physical and economic injuries, which include direct trauma to the body. A victim may be able to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of life's pleasures, and scarring and disfigurement. Mental and emotional injuries are also part of that.
Punitive damages usually are sought only if the defendant was grossly reckless or intended to injure a plaintiff. These damages are awarded as punishment to make sure the defendant won't commit the act again and to deter others from similar conduct.
Hiring a Raleigh Personal Injury
For those who are unsure what to do, a Raleigh personal injury lawyer may be able to help. Lawyers typically take personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you do not pay for the costs of a case or pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. A settlement of your case is generally considered a “win” and your attorney will most likely be entitled to collect their fees.
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