How to Fight a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Being involved in a car accident, slip-and-fall, motorcycle crash, or any other type of accident can be a stressful experience. That anxiety can be further compounded if you later learn that you are accused of causing the accident and a lawsuit has been filed against you.
Having a lawsuit filed against you is a serious matter that could result in you having to pay out thousands of dollars in damages. Whether or not you are at fault, you should take steps to protect your rights if someone files a lawsuit against you.
One of the best steps you can take to protect yourself financially is to contact an attorney. A lawyer can guide you through the legal process, answer any questions you have, and help defend your rights.
At Harker Injury Law, we care about the individuals we represent and treat each of them like family. What’s more, we offer free consultations to everyone. Complete the contact form to schedule your case evaluation.
What Are Personal Injury Lawsuits?
Personal injury law differs from criminal law. When a person or entity files a personal injury lawsuit, it is a type of civil lawsuit.
In a personal injury case, the injured party (plaintiff) is filing a lawsuit against the party (defendant) whose actions or inactions the plaintiff believes caused them physical and/or mental injuries. If the plaintiff proves that the other party caused the accident and resulting injuries, a judge or jury may require the defendant to pay the plaintiff compensatory damages.
Most personal injury claims are based on negligence. A person could be found negligent if he or she failed to exercise the standard of care required by law.
The majority of personal injury lawsuits are settled out of court. Of the cases that were tried and proceeded to a court verdict in 2022, the median amount awarded was $125,366.
Receiving a Letter of Complaint
A personal injury complaint is a formal notice to the defendant, informing them that the injured party, the plaintiff, intends to pursue damages for the harm the defendant allegedly caused.
If you have received a letter of complaint, it means that someone believes that you are responsible for causing him or her either emotional or physical injury. By filing a lawsuit against you, the plaintiff is seeking to recover damages from you for the harm you allegedly caused.
The complaint provides basic information about the lawsuit, such as:
- Jurisdiction: The first few paragraphs of the complaint letter will likely show what state, county, and court should hear the case. The jurisdiction, or place where the complaint is filed, will usually depend on where the plaintiff lives, where the defendant resides, and where the accident occurred.
- Factual allegations: Sometimes referred to as a statement of facts, the body of the complaint letter will list the facts that help establish the plaintiff’s case. If you are the defendant, you may disagree with all or at least some of the allegations – but don’t worry, you will have an opportunity to dispute the allegations against you.
- Relief: Towards the end of the complaint letter, you will find the “relief” section. This section states the amount of damages the defendant wants the court to order the plaintiff to pay as compensation for the injuries the plaintiff has caused him or her.
How Do You Respond to a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Typically, after receiving a notice a personal injury lawsuit has been filed, you will have 30 days to “answer” the complaint. An answer is a formal response to the plaintiff’s complaint.
Your response may include:
- Denying all the plaintiff’s allegations
- Denying specific allegations
- Accepting specific allegations
- Filing a counterclaim with your own allegations
- Filing a motion to dismiss
It is important to respond to the complaint promptly. Failure to respond in time could result in the court issuing a default judgment. In other words, the court could rule in favor of the plaintiff based on the defendant’s failure to act.
It is recommended to consult an attorney as soon as possible after receiving notice of a personal injury claim filed against you. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to advise you on how best to respond and what steps to take next.
Elements Required for a Personal Injury Lawsuit Against You to Succeed
If a lawsuit has been filed against you, there are four elements that the plaintiff will need to prove in order to win the lawsuit. The suit against you will not succeed unless the plaintiff can present evidence of the following four elements.
You owed the plaintiff a duty of care
Every personal injury case begins with the plaintiff demonstrating that the defendant owed him or her a duty of care. A duty of care is an obligation to act in a reasonable manner that would not cause harm to others.
- All drivers have an obligation to obey traffic laws and drive in a way that does not put others in danger
- Home, business, and landowners are required to keep their properties well-maintained and free of hazards for all visitors and guests
- Doctors, nurses, nursing home staff, and other medical personnel have a legal obligation to provide patients with quality care
You breached the duty of care
When filing against you, the defendant must not only prove that you owed him or her a duty of care but also that you breached that obligation.
The following are some examples of breach of duty:
- A driver failed to stop at a red light
- A property owner knew a handrail was broken a did not fix it in a reasonable amount of time
- A nurse in a long-term care facility administered the wrong medication to a resident
The defendant will also need to prove that your breach of duty caused him or her physical or mental harm. Without proof of injury, a lawsuit may not move forward.
For example, the defendant would not have been injured if you had not run the red light and crashed into his or her vehicle.
Finally, the person filing a personal injury lawsuit against you will need to prove that your actions resulted in damages.
Damages a defendant may try to recover include:
- Medical bills
- Loss of income
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Wrongful death
How to Defend Yourself Against a Personal Injury Claim
The plaintiff will only be successful in the personal injury claim against you if it can be proven that your negligence, actions, or failure to act caused him or her harm. Your legal team, though, will aim to reduce the amount you have to pay or have the personal injury case completely dismissed in court.
The plaintiff will likely have gathered evidence to try to prove that you caused the personal injury accident. However, even evidence that you collect yourself can be used to disprove the plaintiff’s allegations against you.
Evidence used in personal injury claims often includes:
- Photos, videos, or surveillance footage of the accident scene
- Police reports made after the incident occurred
- Medical records showing the injuries sustained and medical care received
- Eyewitness testimony from bystanders present at the time of the incident
- Results from accident reconstructionists, engineers, law enforcement officers, and other field experts
An attorney will know how to obtain evidence from various sources, keep it secured until needed, and present it in court if necessary. The evidence the defense gathers could be used to poke holes in the plaintiff’s case and create doubts as to how the accident occurred.
Applying local comparative negligence laws
One common defense tactic that defendants use in personal injury cases is to seek ways to blame the plaintiff for the accident.
California law applies pure comparative negligence rule to personal injury claims. Under these rules, a person responsible for causing an accident and injury only compensates the other person in accordance with his or her percentage of fault.
For example, if your attorneys can prove that the plaintiff was 40-percent responsible for the accident, then the plaintiff would pay for 40 percent of the damages while you pay 60 percent.
Filing a counterclaim
If someone files a lawsuit against you and you believe the plaintiff’s negligence caused or contributed to the incident, you can file a counterclaim.
A counterclaim is brought by the defendant in a lawsuit and alleges fault or negligence on the part of the original plaintiff. A counterclaim remains part of the original lawsuit and is not a separate case.
If the lawsuit is not resolved through negotiations before going to trial, both parties will present evidence to support their allegations.
Failing to file within the statute of limitations
Personal injury cases have a statute of limitations that sets the time period for how long plaintiffs have to file lawsuits. In California, most personal injury cases will need to be filed within 2 years from the date of injury.
Your defense attorney can argue that the case was not filed within the allowed time frame. If the claim was not filed within the statute of limitations, this will likely completely bar the plaintiff from receiving compensation from you.
Refuting invalid or exaggerated allegations
If an allegation made by the plaintiff cannot be proven, you and your attorney can have the allegation stricken from the record.
Additionally, the plaintiff’s injuries and damages sustained may have been overstated or exaggerated. Your lawyer may decide that an impartial, legally licensed doctor review the prognosis and diagnosis from the plaintiff’s doctor for a second opinion.
While this defense may not always end in the case being dismissed, it can help to reduce the amount of damages the plaintiff is awarded.
Failing to mitigate damages
Another common defense in personal injury liability cases is demonstrating that the plaintiff failed to mitigate damages. The duty to mitigate damages means that the injured party should have taken reasonable action to minimize the extent of harm suffered due to a defendant.
The following two examples show how proving failure to mitigate damages can reduce the amount of compensation a plaintiff is awarded:
- Refused medical treatment: If the plaintiff refused certain medical treatments or failed to seek medical help quickly after the accident, your lawyer could use a failure to mitigate damages defense. For example, if your case involved a car accident and the plaintiff did not seek medical care until weeks after the collision, this information could mean the damages you have to pay are reduced.
- Refuses to seek employment: Often, plaintiffs will seek compensation for lost wages related to the accident. However, if your defense team can prove that the plaintiff’s injuries allow him opportunities to work but he refused to work or seek employment, the compensation amount awarded could be reduced.
Identifying liable third parties
Another good defense to counter a personal injury claim is to identify third parties who may be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.
If it can be proven that a third party was fully liable for the injuries of the plaintiff, the lawsuit against you could be dismissed. Even if the third party was even partially responsible for the accident, this could help reduce the amount of damages you or your insurance company are required to pay.
As an example, if a claim is filed against you because of a car accident and poor road conditions that contributed to the incident, the government entity responsible for maintaining the roads could be partially liable for damages.
Seek Help From Our Personal Injury Attorneys
Keep in mind that even though someone files a claim against you for personal injuries, the accident may not have been (entirely) your fault. Anyone can file a personal injury claim after an accident, but before any financial compensation is awarded, the evidence must prove who was truly at fault.
While you are under no obligation to seek legal representation after receiving notice of a lawsuit being filed against you, there are many benefits of having a personal injury defense attorney on your side in such a situation. An experienced attorney will know exactly how to investigate the accident, inform you of your legal rights, file all necessary paperwork, handle all settlement negotiations, and represent you in court if the case goes all the way to trial.
So why go through this challenging time alone? You don’t have to. Call Harker Injury Law today at 760-INJURED to schedule a free consultation or complete the contact form.