Your Seattle Personal Injury Case: The Basics
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed July 18, 2017
You have seen wrecks along the shoulder I-5 before, but you never thought it could happen to you. Or maybe the doctor at a local hospital misdiagnosed your child's sickness and prescribed something horribly inappropriate. The world is a dangerous place, and Seattle is no different. Through no fault of your own you may be burdened with medical bills, inability to work, plus a splitting headache that won't go away. However, you may have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit. Start by following a few simple steps to preserve evidence of the injury, but the legal process that follows can be daunting to the layperson. To help you navigate these murky waters, we have put together this information on Seattle personal injury cases.
Filing a Lawsuit
Every state has a statute of limitations that places a time limit on how long after an injury you will be able to begin a lawsuit. In Washington you have three years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit. Generally, if you do not file your lawsuit within two years of the injury, you forfeit the right to recover regardless of the strength of your case.
The Washington court system divides its trial courts' civil jurisdiction by the monetary award sought by the plaintiff. If your case is worth $5,000 or less you may consider taking advantage of the relaxed procedures and ruloes of evidence in small claims court (check out this packet with all the info and forms about Kings County small claims cases). For cases worth up to $75,000 the proper venue is the Seattle District Court, while cases worth more than $75,000 should be filed in Kings County Superior Court. Luckily, all the courthouses reside in one building, the Kings County Courthouse located at 516 Third Avenue.
To file a lawsuit one must draft a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis of a lawsuit. A complaint should be brief and plainly worded, but it has to be specific enough to show that you would win the case. Once it is filed, serve the complaint and a case information cover sheet on every listed defendant (use a licenses process server or certified return receipt mail so you can provide the court with proof of service). The Kings County Superior Court also has a helpful guide to representing yourself, complete with sample pleadings and forms. If much of this sounds confusing and technical, however, that's probably because it is. Fortunately, personal injury attorneys handle these cases routinely and are often available for free initial consultations. This may be a good starting point for some.
Types of Injury Lawsuits
The most well-tread path toward personal injury recovery is a negligence claim. To succeed in this type of lawsuit, you generally must prove that the other party failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and that this failure caused your injury.
In cases involving death, the surviving family members may be able to recover damages in a wrongful death suit. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship and funeral expenses.
A medical malpractice lawsuit addresses injuries caused by improper treatment by healthcare professionals. For example a doctor could misdiagnose an injury, fail to provide appropriate treatment, or unreasonably delay treatment.
Workplace injuries deserve special attention because it bears a bit more resemblance to an insurance claim than a lawsuit. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries requires all employers except sole proprietors to provide medical and disability benefits in case one of their employees suffers injury or illness caused by their job. Worker's compensation acts like insurance, where an injured worker receives benefits from his or her employer without filing a lawsuit.
If injured at the workplace, report the injury to your employer immediately and seek medical attention, if needed. You should then file a workers' compensation claim as quickly as possible, with the help of your doctor, if applicable. Browse through this handy brochure created by the state for more details.
Historically, if you were partly to blame for the accident you would be barred from receiving any compensation. However, Washington has softened this harsh rule by adopting a pure comparative negligence rule for distributing damages in negligence cases. Under Washington's comparative negligence law, fault is divided among each party and damages are reduced in proportion to your relative fault. 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, Washington is one of 13 states to have a "pure" comparative negligence standard, which means that even if your injury is found to be 99% your own fault, you can still recover 1%.
Types of Damages
Damages are traditionally divided into economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are designed to compensate you for monetary losses, such as:
- past and future medical expenses;
- loss of past and future income;
- loss of use of property;
- costs of repair or replacement; and
- loss of employment opportunities.
In personal injury cases, the most obvious economic damage will be medical bills, but print out our damages worksheet to make sure nothing is overlooked. Alternatively, you may want to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can draft the papers to initiate a lawsuit, gather the proper evidence and negotiate a settlement with the opposing party on your behalf.
The most common type of non-economic damage in personal injury cases compensates the plaintiff for "pain and suffering." Pain and suffering damages reflect the mental and physical distress a victim suffers as a result of the injury. Significantly, the Washington Supreme Court declared damage caps on non-economic damages to be unconstitutional, so Washington is one of the rare states with no upper limit on medical malpractice pain and suffering damages.
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