Through a combination of the media sensationalizing legal cases, movies and television show romanticizing the legal process, and legislators politicizing certain aspects of personal injury cases, quite a few myths about personal injury claims have developed over the years. However, some are more troublesome than others. Here are three myths about personal injury claims that can actually cause problems for you if you believe them.
Myth #1 – "The Case is Worth One Gazillion Dollars"
Possibly one of the most insidious personal injury myths is that the case will result in a multi-million dollar windfall for the plaintiff. In reality, the vast majority of personal injury cases do not result in million-dollar settlements or even hundred-thousand dollar awards. The only reason it appears that way is because the few cases that do reach these levels garner an excessive amount of media attention, which skews plaintiff expectations.
In fact, in 2005, the median amount of damages plaintiffs received was $31,000. People in auto accidents received a median average of $16,000. The big payouts occurred in medical malpractice and product liability cases, but these types of cases aren't litigated very often.
It's important to set your expectations for recovery at a realistic level by critically evaluating your actual economic damages (property damage, lost wages) and adding a reasonable amount for non-economic damages if appropriate. You'll also need to factor in expenditures such as attorney's fees and court costs. This will help you avoid pricey mistakes such as continuing to litigate the case to get more money and ending up with less due to increased legal expenses.
Myth #2 – "He Who Receives the Citation Shall Be Liable"
Another prevailing myth in personal injury cases is that a citation or disciplinary action taken against the defendant automatically implicates the individual as the liable party. For instance, the police give someone involved in a traffic accident a ticket for speeding. The plaintiff may assume this means the police believed the individual was responsible for causing the accident; otherwise they wouldn't have cited him or her.
The reality is citations, tickets, and other disciplinary actions don't automatically prove liability. At most, these items can serve as corroborating evidence of wrongdoing. For example, a doctor can be disciplined by the medical board for prescribing medication to patients in an unethical manner. This, by itself, doesn't prove the doctor prescribed the wrong medication in a current medical negligence case, but it can show a history of problematic behavior that may support the plaintiff's claim of harm.
However, you could bring in a cabinet full of citations levied against the defendant and still lose your case if you don't have anything showing the person was actually responsible for causing the injury. The majority of legal claims list the factors plaintiffs are required to show to prove the defendant is liable for injuries. Work with an attorney to sift through all of the photos, paperwork, and testimonies to uncover the things that will help you make the most compelling case to the court.
Myth #3 – "You Can Still Sue If the Settlement Amount is Too Small"
This myth is actually true if, and only if, the plaintiff in the case hasn't already accepted the settlement offer from the defendant. If you and the defendant are still in the negotiation phase of the settlement process and you decide you want to take your chances with a judge or jury, then you are free to proceed with litigation.
However, once you agree to the settlement, there will typically be language in the contract prohibiting you from bringing further legal action against the defendant in the future. So it's important that you and your attorney work hard to ensure the settlement offer compensates you fully for your losses before you sign away your rights.
To discuss other myths you may have heard about personal injury lawsuits or to hire an attorney to help you with a claim, contact a professional lawyer, like Richard M Altman.