If you have suffered an injury in Las Vegas due to someone’s intentional or unintentional misconduct, you probably have a personal injury claim.
Personal injury claims don’t enforce themselves, however. You have to take care of the enforcement part yourself, hopefully with the help of a personal injury lawyer. Here’s a description of a typical sequence of events.
Preliminary Consideration: Should You Settle or Go to Court?
Most personal injury claims end in settlement. A fair number, however, end up at trial.
A typical strategy is to commence settlement negotiations, file a lawsuit when negotiations stall, engage in the court-supervised pretrial discovery process to gather evidence that is in the defendant’s possession and use that evidence as leverage to secure a final settlement.
Step 1: Collect Evidence at the Scene (If You Can)
Gather as much evidence as you can at the scene of the accident, to the extent that your injuries allow you to do so without further injuring yourself. If and only if you feel up to it, you can use your cell phone to take photos and videos of the accident, collect witness contact details, and more. If the police arrive before the ambulance does, cooperate with them (but do not apologize or accept blame for the accident).
Step 2: Seek Medical Treatment
Seek medical treatment as soon as possible. When it comes to deciding whether you are injured or not, err on the side of caution and assume you were injured if you suffered any impact. Follow your doctor’s instructions religiously, or the other side will use it against you later.
Step 3: Talk to a Lawyer
Almost any personal injury lawyer will schedule a free initial consultation with a possible client. Take this opportunity, even if you have to talk to the lawyer by phone from your hospital bed. If you can’t do it, find a friend or relative who can.
Step 4: Perform a Preliminary Investigation
Your lawyer should gather receipts, photographic evidence, witness statements, and anything else that might be relevant. Hopefully, this will provide your lawyer with a general picture of your accident and how it happened.
Step 5: Estimate the Value of Your Claim
This is where a lawyer really comes in handy. Your claim breaks down into multiple elements and sub-elements. Identifying these elements and sub-elements can help you build the value of your claim one step at a time.
The Three Basic Elements of Personal Injury Damages
Personal injury damages come in three different varieties–economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages:
- Economic damages include tangible, easy-to-quantify losses such as medical expenses and lost earnings;
- Non-economic damages include intangible, difficult-to-quantify losses such as pain and suffering and emotional distress.
- Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for particularly reprehensible behavior. Courts usually don’t award punitive damages even when the victim wins economic and non-economic damages.
When calculating your damages using these factors, remember that it’s not what actually happened that matters-–it’s what you can prove with admissible evidence.
Comparative negligence applies to negligence claims where at least two parties share blame for the accident that produced the injuries. Nevada operates a “modified comparative negligence” system with a 51% bar to recovery.
This means that you can be assessed a percentage of fault for your accident. If this percentage is 51% or higher, you cannot recover compensation per state law. If your assigned percentage is less than that, you can still recover (reduced) damages. For example, sharing 10% of the blame can reduce your damages by 10%.
An attorney can protect you from allegations of comparative fault and maximize the value of your claim.
Step 6: Send a Demand Letter
Most personal injury victims at least try to settle their claims outside of court. If the accident was the other party’s fault, the at-fault party’s liability insurance policy, if any, should pay your claim. You would enforce this claim by filing a third-party claim against that insurance policy.
Your lawyer will determine who is responsible for paying your claim and send them a demand letter that describes the accident, justifies your claim, and demands compensation. Hopefully, this letter will kick off settlement negotiations.
Step 7: Decide Which Court To Use
If your claim is less than $10,000, you can file your case in the Small Claims Division of the Las Vegas Justice Court. If your claim is less than $15,000, you can file your claim outside of Small Claims Court but still in the Las Vegas Justice Court. If your claim exceeds $15,000, you must use the Clark County District Court.
Step 8: File a Lawsuit
“Filing a lawsuit” means taking care of the following matters:
- Draft and file a formal complaint with the court clerk.
- Draft and file a summons with the court clerk (to notify the defendant when and where to show up in court).
- Pay the filing fee. The amount depends on the side of your claim–the larger your claim, the higher the filing fee.
- Have a neutral third party serve the defendant with a copy of the complaint and summons (“service of process”). You must pursue service of process diligently, even if the defendant is trying to evade you.
Once you complete these four steps, you have beaten the statute of limitations deadline, no matter how long it takes to resolve your case.
Step 9: Gather Evidence From the Other Side Using the Pretrial Discovery Process
The pretrial discovery process, available only to parties to a lawsuit, allows you to demand evidence that is in the other party’s possession, cross-examine their witnesses, and present them with written questions they must answer under oath. They can do the same to you, and the court can punish any party who refuses to cooperate.
The pretrial discovery process is a great way to gather evidence that would be unavailable any other way.
Step 10: Trial
Most personal injury trials last a day, although sometimes they drag on for months. A trial consists of the following activities:
- Voir dire (jury selection): A competitive process for selecting the members of the jury.
- Opening statements by each party’s lawyer: Each party explains their side’s position to the court. They also state what they intend to prove and how they intend to prove it.
- Examination and cross-examination of witnesses by each party’s lawyer: Parties introduce evidence using witnesses. They also question each other’s as well as their own witnesses.
- Closing statements by each party’s lawyer. Each party reminds jurors what they have seen (selectively, of course) and urges the jury to interpret the evidence in a manner that is favorable to them.
- Jury instructions: The judge instructs the jury on the applicable law so that they can apply it to the facts and reach a verdict.
- Jury deliberation and verdict: The jury reaches a verdict and announces it to the court.
Settlement is still possible right up until the moment the jury announces the verdict.
Don’t Try To ‘Go It Alone’ With a Large Claim Without a Las Vegas Personal Injury Lawyer
Insurance companies and corporate defendants absolutely love claimants who choose to represent themselves. If your claim is large, you’re probably better off hiring an experienced Las Vegas personal injury lawyer than trying to win your claim on your own. Don’t hesitate to call Battle Born Injury Lawyers at (702)-570-9000 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney.