Accidents that result in serious injuries affect the injured person and his/her family in significant ways. Rights to medical treatments, including who should pay for past and future medical expenses, and loss of earnings, may become issues. Physical pains may be accompanied by emotional suffering as the person feels helpless and isolated, unable to pursue and enjoy life's basic activities.
Personal injury laws address these issues and allow the injured to seek redress for these damages. The injured may file a lawsuit alleging that a person's injury was caused by the negligence of another. If the injury was indeed due to the fault of another, then the injured has the right to claim for damages to compensate him or her for these injuries.
Accidents that result in death have different consequences. If the decedent's untimely death left behind family members who suffered the loss of moral and economic support, then they have the right to sue for damages. A wrongful death lawsuit is still classified under the category of personal injury law. Such lawsuit alleges that the death is caused by the negligence of another.
The surviving spouse, next of kin or personal representative can sue on behalf of the decedent to recover economic damages such as medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of future earnings, and loss of benefits. They can also sue to recover non-economic damages. Under California law, these include the loss of love, companionship or consortium, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, moral support and the loss of training and guidance.
In cases where the death was a result of particularly egregious conduct, punitive damages may be sought. Where there is a felony, like a drunk driving accident, attorney fees may additionally be recovered.
However, just because someone died or was seriously injured in an accident does not necessarily mean that damages can automatically be recovered. Under California Law, the recovery of damages for injuries or death is possible only if the following elements are met:
- The other party was negligent and
- the party's negligence proximately caused the injuries or death of the person.
Harsh though it may be, if the accident was due to the fault of the decedent or the injured person in the first place, then there is no recovery under the law.
Pursuing a serious personal injury or wrongful death action can become complex and time-consuming. It would be very difficult to proceed without knowledgeable and experienced legal help. This is why one of the most important steps that an injured person or the heirs of a deceased person can do is to find an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Apart from statute of limitations concerns, retaining a personal injury attorney as soon as possible will ensure that valuable evidence and witness information can be gathered and preserved. Evidence may disappear and witnesses may become unavailable. The sooner these things are done, the better the case that can be built for the injured.
An attorney's litigation experience as well as his or her achievements should be major considerations in retaining the attorney. Serious injuries or wrongful death claims may require a certain level of expertise and resources which the attorney should be able to match. The attorney's ability to communicate well with the client and the client's family and an understanding of their culture and language are essential. The attorney who understands his or her clients are in a better position to articulate their damages to a court or jury.
Whether the accident resulting in serious personal injuries or death was caused by vehicle collisions, dangerous premises, defective products, or harmful exposure to toxins – the effect to those directly involved and their families will be disruptive and confusing. The more one learns about the potential issues that may arise, the better one will be prepared to deal with them.