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Your Tacoma Personal Injury Case: The Basics

Tacoma is full of unseen dangers lurking around every corner. So far you’ve managed to avoid slipping on a puddle in Metropolitan Market, or getting T-boned at the intersection of 19th and Orchard Street, but what happens when you eat one too many popcorn kernels and the Regal Lakewood Stadium seat collapses from under you? In all seriousness, even minor accidents can leave severe injuries, and sometimes the only way to get those medical bills covered is via a personal injury lawsuit. But this process is a daunting prospect for a non-lawyer, so FindLaw has created this informational guide to shed some light on what to expect from a typical Tacoma personal injury case.

What Do I Need to File a Case?

To file a lawsuit a plaintiff must draft a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis of the lawsuit, the names of the defendants, a request for compensation, and a case information cover sheet. Once those documents are filed, a local process server can help hand deliver copies of both documents and a summons on every defendant.

What Claim Should I Pursue?

Most injuries are inflicted accidentally, as opposed to intentionally, and are therefore governed by negligence law. To succeed in a negligence lawsuit, one must prove that the other party failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and this failure caused an injury and damages.

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.

How Long Do I Have to File My Case?

Every lawsuit has an inherent time limitation on when it can be filed, called the statute of limitations. It prevents plaintiffs from maliciously waiting until evidence has disappeared before dragging a helpless defendant into court. In Washington state, you have three years from the date of the accident to file your personal injury lawsuit. If you do not file your lawsuit within two years of the injury, you may forfeit the right to recover regardless of the strength of your case.

Which Court Should I File In?

The Washington judicial system divides its trial courts’ civil jurisdiction by the amount of money the plaintiff seeks to recover from the defendant. Cases worth more than $75,000 should be filed in the big-time Superior Court, while smaller cases at the small-time District Court. If your case is worth $5,000 or less you should consider taking advantage of the relaxed procedural and evidentiary requirements of small claims court. However, all the courthouses are located at 930 Tacoma Avenue.

How Much Can I Recover?

Courts divide damages into two categories: economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are easy to understand and calculate because they compensate you for the finite monetary burdens you suffered as a result of your injury, such as medical expenses, loss of income, lost use of property, cost to repair or replace property, and loss of employment opportunities. Print out our damages worksheet to make sure nothing is overlooked.

Non-economic damage are sometimes referred to as pain and suffering because they reflect the mental and physical distress, scarring, disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life you suffer as a result of an injury. Significantly, the Washington Supreme Court declared damage caps on non-economic damages to be unconstitutional, so Washington is one of the few states with no upper limit on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases.

What if I Contributed to My Own Injury?

Like most states, Washington has adopted a comparative negligence rule for distributing damages in negligence cases where both the defendant and plaintiff contributed to an injury. 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. However, unlike most states Washington’s comparative negligence rule is “pure,” which means there is no 50% cutoff that destroys the plaintiff’s claim. In other words, even if a plaintiff was 99% at-fault for his injuries, he may still be able to recover 1%.

What if I’m Injured at Work?

Washington’s workers’ compensation program works more like insurance than a lawsuit. All employers are required to provide medical and disability benefits in case one of their employees suffers injury or illness caused by their job. Instead of filing a lawsuit to recover medical expenses, you just make a claim with your employer’s insurance carrier.

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. Washington created this handy brochure with more in-depth information.

Find a Lawyer

Before you embark into a journey through the confusing Washington legal system you may want to consider scheduling a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney. A good lawyer can draft the papers to initiate a lawsuit, gather the proper evidence and negotiate a settlement on their client’s behalf. Moreover, lawyers in this field almost universally work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid a percentage of your recovery. Yes, they don’t get paid unless and until you win.

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