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Laying down the L.A.(W.)

Personal injury law: It’s the good ole’ U.S. justice system’s way of saying, “Aw, did you get hurt? Well, here’s your chance to get what you deserve out of the situation.” That is, the systems are in place to ensure your god-awful day might just hold the promise of redemption. (Or, if you happen to be on the delivering end of said god-awfulness, they’re there to remind you that our world ain’t so forgiving as your reckless mistakes might suggest you believe.)

It might appear daunting at first glance, but you should know that the legal systems and actors are perfectly in place if you’re in dire straits. Whether you’re dealing with medical malpractice, an automobile accident, or a poorly-constructed staircase in your apartment complex, know that you certainly aren’t alone, and that the state of California has the legal framework in place necessary to guarantee your right to financial recovery and (eventual) peace of mind.

Personal injury: What is it?

So what exactly are the sorts of things that fall under personal injury law in CA? Also known as “tort law”, this set of legislation lords over acts of wrongdoing from one human to another. A claim may be brought against an employer by an individual – think hazardous work conditions in which fault may be assigned to someone, rather than a blameless accident, which would fall under worker’s compensation. It may be brought against a company, like the owner of a subway system or a fast food restaurant, like in the instance of an infamously too-hot cup of McDonald’s coffee that resulted in third-degree burns and, eventually, a $2.7 million settlement. Then there are the cases of person-to-person inflicted injury.

From car accidents resulting in one party’s negligence to cases of assault and battery, ask yourself the question: Will the actions in question result in emotional, financial, or physical pain in the long run? If so, you’re dealing with personal injury law. (And if you’re smart, you’ll hire a professional who knows how to sort out all the messy details.)

California’s version of personal injury law establishes three categories under which a particular case can fall:

  1. The first is an intentional act of negligence. Also known as an accident, this category covers those instances in which the offending party really should have done their part to prevent something bad from happening, but didn’t. (Jim the cab driver was texting while driving and subsequently rear-ended you.)
  2. The second is a straightforward, intentional act resulting in injury. (Jim the cab driver holds a personal vendetta against you and hit you on purpose.) In many states, these are the only two types of personal injury cases that exist.
  3. But in CA, there is a third category known as “reckless misconduct”, which is characterized by willful disregard for others’ safety or well-being.

Uniquely Californian

While personal injury law is largely constant from state to state in terms of its definition, California’s subset does feature a few notable differences. In discerning such differences, you’re essentially performing a bit of analysis in deciding who one can seek damage compensation from and how much compensation can be sought.

The California Tort Claims Act deals with grievances brought against the California state government. There are a lot of moving parts that make up any state’s government, so you can only imagine how damaging (and embarrassing) it potentially can be if a citizen decides to seek compensation for some sort of injury or hardship they’ve sustained. This law essentially buys the Golden State government a little time to sort things out; it dictates that one must provide the government agency in question written notice detailing their grievance six full months before filing an actual lawsuit. So if you twisted your ankle at today’s hottest music festival, and think that the trails constructed by the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservatory are to blame, you better get cracking on that formal complaint, you wild child, you!

The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act deals with the monetary damages that may be collected in a personal injury lawsuit, namely in cases of medical malpractice. Although it was enacted in 1975 and has been challenged numerous times in court, the law has been upheld, and its provisions are pretty rare as far as individual states’ legal systems go. Basically, it places a cap on the amount of money one can collect if they can prove a doctor did them wrong – not so popular with consumer advocacy groups, as one might assume. It starts with non-economic damages (i.e. irreversible physical trauma), which is capped at $250,000. Other aspects involve specific requirements regarding attorney’s fees and what are essentially payment plans for medical providers found guilty.

Redemption’s expiration date

Another nuance of California’s personal injury law that should not be taken lightly is the statute of limitations that applies in these sorts of cases. In California you have two years from the date of the initial incident to go to court and file a lawsuit. There are, of course, some deviations from this length of time depending on the specific nature of the case. (For example, the limit is one year in medical malpractice cases. For a breach of written contract, the limit is four years.) In any case, it’s a good idea to collect evidence quickly and collect plenty of it if you’re ever suspicious of another party’s actions once you’ve begun suffering.

But don’t let hastiness or a desire to get things over quickly impact your credibility! For instance, if you are involved in a car accident, focus on the collection of evidence and concise communication with law enforcement. Avoid talking about what’s just happened in casual terms – even if that only means saying, “I’m sorry!” The admission of anything that could even be loosely interpretedas guilt can be used against you and greatly diminish the validity of your claims in court and your ability to collect compensation.

Don’t go it alone!

Depending on how complicated a particular mishap is, you might find it incredibly to determine what you’re entitled to, and which entities will be paying for them! A major advantage of having an experienced attorney by your side is simply determining what areas of damage are involved. Whether these damages are quantifiable (like workdays missed, damage to your vehicle, and hospital bills), or not (like emotional distress, loss of companionship, and loss of consortium), the work that goes into organizing and making a case out of it all is not for the faint of heart – or the improperly trained. If you need legal help, BernieSez is a fantastic place to start. Browse directories and discussion boards, or post a general question that might just bring the perfect legal expect to you. Remember: This world is tough enough. If you’ve been hurt, you’ll thank yourself for taking back what’s yours.