Personal Injury Awards and Lessons Learned

Texas as an Example

From drunk driving accidents we can examine how well-oiled the legal machine is for personal injury civil cases. For personal injury attorneys in Texas, for example, there are four arguments one must prove before the court in a personal injury case: drunk driver negligence (filed against drunk driver’s insurance); dram shop liability (bartender who served is liable); social host liability (host of a party is liable); and underinsured or uninsured motorist claims (filed against your own insurance).

In 2016, there were over 14,000 serious injury accidents in Texas, with over 17,000 persons experiencing serious injury as a result, further resulting in substantial financial losses and in some cases permanent debilitation or even death.  One can surmise, then, how many individuals are ultimately caught in the net of the civil legal system, particularly in Texas where one may not actually be involved in physically causing the accident itself. Personal injury law thus implicates even those individuals not involved in the actual commission of the accident as nonetheless culpable.

Post-Trial and Types of Awards

Now that the arguments for a case have been identified, examining the post-trial award phase of a personal injury case there are three categories of damages a civil trial award may result in. Non-specific to any one state, they are: economic (monetary compensation); non-economic (replacement of damages or lost material); and punitive (jail time, community service). If your case successfully proves one of the four arguments in the previous paragraph, you have greater leeway in specifying a satisfactory remedy with the court listed in this one. However, when the court has reached its verdict, the large civil award payout you are expecting may be mitigated by state law and the jury.

Texas vs. California: A Personal Injury Comparative Study

While at the federal level of the U.S. judiciary there are no dollar caps on civil cases, in Texas, courts dispensing personal injury awards are limited to double your economic damages; up to $750,000 in non-economic damages; and up to $200,000. But when taking on a client’s case, there are twists of personal injury law to pay particular attention to when drunk driving is at hand, that may further limit your expectations. A defendant drunk driver may request a bifurcated trial, also known as a split trial. In the first phase of the split trial, the judge and jury will actually determine if the driver was negligent and in phase two, the judge and jury will decide if punitive damages are merited. The final hurdle to clear at this point in a Texas civil case is a unanimous jury verdict in order to actually receive compensation.

Attorneys in California, on the other hand, face less obstacles guiding their clients’ cases through civil trial. Courts are compelled to assess civil personal injury cases  through the lens of comparative fault, a determination utilized via calculating a percentage of everyone’s contribution of fault in the accident. Further, and perhaps unsurprisingly, California institutes no statutory caps in a civil case seeking compensatory damages (aside from medical malpractice personal injury at $250,000, and uninsured drivers may receive no non-economic damages). With Texas and California as examples- two of the United States’ most populous jurisdictions- practicing personal injury and civil law attorneys can see that differences in trial outcomes are not entirely determined on circumstance, but statutory regulations.

Lessons Learned in Personal Injury Cases and Additional Remedies

Both motorists and attorneys can take away several lessons. First, state law will govern the course of your case as it winds its way through court and based on insurance and procedural regulations, expected compensatory awards are more easily discerned. Insurance claims will pay you first and foremost after an accident, but in order to carry your case through civil court, additional evidence is required to obtain compensation for damages, most crucial among them is negligence. As tort law dictates, one must identify beyond a preponderance of the evidence- a lesser threshold than in a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt- that the “other” driver was at fault and breached his or her duty of care.

To continue, the state in which your accident occurs and thus the courts that will try the facts of the case will add layers of complexity. In Texas, a bartender or party host may be held partially liable for an accident if alcohol is served and a drunk driver causes a wreck, but there damages are capped at specific amounts. Alternatively, in California, your unfortunate auto accident could turn into a quasi-lottery win of a personal injury civil award, skilfully aided by a talented Ventura Personal Injury lawyer– provided the court determines a more substantial share of fault on the other driver.

Second, it is important to note for attorneys, their clients, and laypeople who may otherwise be unaware- multiple concurrent cases related to your personal injury case may unfold all at the same time. You have your civil trial, which has been discussed at length here in terms of possible outcomes and limitations; opening a criminal case seeking punitive damages with a jury’s verdict; and lastly, a worker’s compensation claim with your employer.

Each legal situation has nuances. A successful workers’ compensation claim does not entitle you to a compensatory award per se, but rather covers up to a certain dollar amount of medical expenses as well as protect your employment status while you are unable to work. Disability payments may be an option but the key distinction here is that a civil trial carries the force of law, whereas workers’ comp is an administrative remedy. Both involve some form of financial coverage, but only in civil trial will your compensatory award carry the potential for a substantial dollar amount. Although having to consider best options in less-than-great situations like a car accident or serious personal injury may not be a walk in the park, it is crucial your legal representation- and you- know what outcome you are looking for and how to obtain results.

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