You likely have many questions if you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury as a result of a defective product or the negligence of someone else. For over 25 years, Skorina Law, P.C. has successfully provided personal injury attorney representation for individuals and their families in Orange County and throughout Southern California. As a service to you, we attempt below to answer some of the common questions we see during our initial contact with clients:
1. "Do I have a Case"
For a personal injury claim or lawsuit to be successful, a jury must find that the defendant failed to do something a reasonable person would have done or did something a reasonable person would not have done. Essentially, did the defendant behave "unreasonably?" In product liability cases, the essential question is whether the product was "unreasonably dangerous."
Sometimes, unreasonable behavior is easily established. For example, in a rear end auto accident, absent extraordinary circumstances the driver of the vehicle that strikes the car in front of it is responsible. In more complex cases, whether the defendant violated a standard of care or the product was unreasonably dangerous requires detailed investigation and formal discovery conducted by an experienced attorney, often in consult with experts in the relevant field.
Assuming the answers to the above are "yes," the next question is whether the unreasonable behavior or unreasonably dangerous product was a substantial factor in causing injury. This is the requirement of "injury causation." If the negligence or product defect did not cause harm, a legal claim will fail. The question of causation is a frequent battleground for plaintiffs (injured persons) and insurance companies. Insurance companies invariably challenge any claim of injury, with some combination of the following arguments: a. the plaintiff was not injured; b. if the plaintiff was injured, the injuries occurred before or after the event but were not caused in any way by the event; and c. if the event caused plaintiff injury, plaintiff is exaggerating the extent of injuries caused.
An experienced personal injury attorney will start on day one preparing to meet these arguments head on and demonstrating the causal connection between the harm and the defendant's conduct.
2. "What is My Case Worth"
This is the most frequently asked and most difficult question posed by potential personal injury clients. Under California law, an injured party is entitled to recover for all of the harm caused by the defendant's negligence or defective product. What does that mean? This means that the injured party is entitled to recover for all past and future medical expenses, all past and future loss of earnings, the value of any damaged property, and past and future "pain and suffering."
The last item, "pain and suffering" is a category for which there are no specific guidelines. The jury is not given any specific instructions. Rather, the amount of damages sufficient to compensate an injured person is left to a jury's discretion. An experienced attorney will have several creative ways to demonstrate how a jury should compensate you for pain and suffering damages.
In reality, case valuation is not an exact science. The jury is not given specific instructions on how to calculate pain and suffering. It is more appropriate to understand that every case has range of appropriate values. An experienced attorney will work to persuade the jury or claims adjuster that your claim is above that range or at the high end of it.
3. "What Do I Do After My Injury"
First, you should follow your doctor's instructions. Nothing is more important than your health. Second, contact our office. After conducting a brief conflicts check, we will give you guidance and direction appropriate for your specific circumstances. Our advice invariably will include asking you — or, if you are not able, a close family member — to document any damages. This means taking photographs of any bruises, cuts, or scars. If it is an auto accident case, take photos of the vehicles involved as soon as possible. If the case involves a defective product, every effort must be made to secure the product. It is now evidence. These are just a view of the many issues we cover with potential clients when they call us. Rest assured that all of your communications with our office are confidential, even if we do not ultimately accept your case.
4. "Do I Need An Attorney"
An injured victim should not attempt to represent themselves. The only potential exception to this rule is if several lawyers, after having been provided the relevant facts, have examined the matter and declined to take the case. At that point, you may decide you have no choice but to try to negotiate on your own or pursue a small claims court case. But every attorney's judgment is different and when we decline a case for whatever reason, we always encourage clients to seek other opinions and not abandon the matter or try to represent themselves until several independent lawyers have passed on the case.
There are several reasons for not representing yourself:
- The other party will initially be represented by an insurance adjuster. This adjuster is invariably a very experienced and skilled adversary who has negotiated hundreds if not thousands of cases. Your case, as devastating to your life as it may be, is just a file number to the adjuster. The adjusters are not bad people: they are moms and dads, husbands and wives. But they have jobs to do. And their job is to resolve the claim for as little money has possible. And many of them are very skilled at making you think they are overpaying when actually they are paying a fraction of the claim's true value.
- Your settlement is forever. The insurance company will require you to sign a release of all claims before it issues any payment. You have only one opportunity to obtain just compensation for your injuries. You should have a professional on your side to make sure it is done properly.
- You must address claims for health expense reimbursement. The last decade or so has seen an increase in the number of claims for reimbursement of medical expenses asserted by private insurers, MediCare and MediCal. It is not uncommon for these insurers to claim reimbursement from your settlement for amounts it paid to doctors and hospitals to treat your injuries. Relatively new laws, and the fine print of many private group health insurance contracts, create rights of reimbursement in favor of these insurers and others. An experienced attorney will evaluate and negotiate these potential claims so there are no surprises later.
- Finally, after you have started negotiating on your behalf, many lawyers will conclude they do not wish to become involved in your case. This is because of the risk you may already have damaged your and/or your negotiating position by what you have said or failed to say in your ill-advised discussions with the adjuster.
For all of these reasons (and more), do yourself and your injured loved ones a favor: retain an experienced California personal injury attorney.
Call or Email for a Free Consultation with an Orange County Personal Injury Attorney
At Skorina Law, P.C., we offer a complimentary consultation in all personal injury cases. You will not be charged an attorney's fee unless we recover for you.* We have experience in a wide variety of personal injury and product defect cases. The following is a sample of the types of cases and injuries we have handled: car accident, truck accident, motorcycle accident, slip and fall, trip and fall, defective treadmills, defective recreational devices, wrongful death, drownings, spine injuries, brain injuries, and more. If you or a loved one have been injured in Orange County or anywhere in Southern California, we invite you to contact our Laguna Niguel office today at: (949) 582-1544 or email us at email@example.com.
* Depending on the terms of the specific engagement, client may be responsible for costs incurred.
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