Frequently Asked Questions About Personal Injury Claims
After an accident, you may be left with more questions than answers. You or a loved one may be unable to work. You may be facing mounting medical bills. Between dealing with the insurance paperwork, managing the financial strain of the accident and taking care of your medical recovery, you may not know what to do.
We can help. At Schweickert & Ganassin, LLP, our personal injury lawyers have over 120 years of combined experience. We're happy to share that experience with you.
- Who can file a personal injury lawsuit?
- How much is a personal injury claim worth?
- Where does personal injury money come from?
- Are personal injury awards taxable?
- Do I need to talk to the insurance company?
- Why should I get a lawyer after an accident?
- When should I accept a settlement from an insurance company?
While these questions and answers should give you a general idea of your legal rights, remember that every individual case is unique. If you or a loved one has been injured due to someone else's negligence, we would be happy to meet with you for a free consultation. Call (866) 604-9075 today.
In order to claim damages (financial compensation) for a personal injury, you need to show that your injury was sustained as a result of another person or company's negligence. This legal term means that the person owed you a duty of care and failed to meet that obligation, causing injury. For instance, motorists owe a duty of care to safely operate their vehicles and avoid accidents. Likewise, the owner or manager of a property has a duty of care to maintain safe conditions on the premises.
If you were partially responsible for your injury, you may still be able to file a lawsuit for the portion of your injury that was someone else's responsibility. Illinois uses the legal standard of modified comparative negligence, which means that an injured person can win compensation from a lawsuit as long as he or she is less than 50 percent at fault for the accident. However, any damages you recover will be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if a jury awards you $100,000 but finds that you were 30 percent responsible for your injuries, your award would be reduced by 30 percent, to $70,000.
That depends on the facts of your case and the nature of your injury. A typical personal injury claim may involve compensation for all of the following economic damages - that is to say, tangible, documented financial losses resulting from the injury:
- Lost wages while you were recovering from your injury. Note that you can sue for lost wages even if you used employer-provided sick time or other paid time off. You may be able to "buy back" those lost vacation days from your employer using money from your award.
- Medical bills arising from your injury, both past and future. You can sue for medical bills even if your health insurance already paid for those costs. However, your health insurance company may need to be reimbursed out of your award.
- Replacement services during your recovery. For instance, you may have needed to hire someone to clean your home or care for your children because you are physically unable to perform those tasks yourself.
- Modifications to your home or vehicle to accommodate a permanent disability due to the accident.
- Repairs or replacement for any property damaged in the accident.
- Other future economic losses such as lost earning potential because you now need to work a "light duty" job.
In addition, you may be able to sue for non-economic damages, often referred to as "pain and suffering." These are consequences of the injury that do not have a well-defined monetary value but are nevertheless demonstrable losses you have sustained. You may be entitled to compensation for physical pain, mental anguish, humiliation or damage to your reputation arising from the accident. If a loved one was injured or killed in an accident, you may be able to claim compensation for loss of consortium, which refers to the loss of companionship and affection that the person who was harmed provided prior to the accident.
Some personal injury claims also involve punitive damages, which are additional financial penalties intended to punish the negligent party. You may be awarded punitive damages if the conduct that led to your injury was intentional or particularly reckless, such as drunk driving. These damages also may stop others from behaving in a similar manner.
We've seen many people hesitate to contact an attorney after an injury because the responsible person was a friend or family member. If you were hurt at a relative's home or injured while riding in a friend's car, the last thing you want to do is to file a personal injury claim against that person.
The truth is that even if the defendant in your claim is a friend or family member, you aren't trying to take their money. In the vast majority of personal injury cases, an insurance company is responsible for paying the award. For instance, if you were hurt at someone's home, their homeowners insurance will cover the award. When you file a personal injury claim, you're simply asking the insurance to fulfill their obligation and provide the coverage that they have been paid to provide.
In most cases, no. Compensatory damages from a personal injury settlement or verdict are tax-exempt. That's because they're intended to make you whole again after an injury - the government does not see this as taxable "income." On the other hand, compensation for non-physical injuries that do not result in physical injuries or medical bills, such as for emotional distress, lost business income, defamation, wrongful discharge or racial discrimination are taxable as ordinary income. However, every case is unique and we encourage all of our clients to consult with a tax professional following successful resolution of their case.
Depending on the circumstances of your injury and your policy, you may need to promptly notify your insurance company of the accident. For instance, if you were hurt in a car crash, your auto insurance company may deny your claim if you do not notify a representative within a reasonable amount of time. However, you are under no obligation to talk to the defendant's insurance company - and you shouldn't, either. Insurance companies are interested in reducing their own liability by finding ways to reduce or deny your claim, and they'll use any information they can get from you for that purpose.
When you retain us after an accident, we'll immediately contact any involved insurance companies to let them know that you have retained an attorney. From that point forward, they should direct their questions to us - and if they call you, you can politely decline to answer and tell them to call us. Having an experienced attorney on your side, fielding those questions, will help to protect your legal rights.
If you've been hurt due to someone else's carelessness, you will almost certainly be dealing with their insurance company. The insurance company's priority is to protect their client and reduce their own liability. Be aware that they have teams of attorneys and adjusters on their side to do just that. You need your own advocate to level the playing field and help you be made whole again.
The sooner you reach out to us after an accident, the better. We need to start our investigation right away to protect your legal rights. You may be worried about the cost of hiring an attorney. We understand. That's why we handle personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. You don't have to pay us a cent up front, and we'll advance all costs related to your case. If we recover for you, our fee will be a percentage of your award. If we don't win, you don't owe us anything.
It's fairly standard practice for an insurance company to offer a "low-ball" initial settlement soon after an accident. While it may be tempting to take that early offer, we encourage you to wait until you have consulted an attorney and completed your medical treatment so that the full cost of your accident is known. In most cases, the insurance company's offer doesn't come close to making you whole again after an injury. That's why you need an experienced attorney from our firm to review the offer before you make the decision to accept or negotiate further.