The New Jersey Personal Injury Lawsuit Process
Being involved in any type of serious accident can change the course of a person’s life, as well as the lives of those close to them. Whether the accident was the result of a workplace injury, New Jersey car accident or slip-and-fall, those injured face myriad hurdles on the road to recovery. Often, the physical recovery process entails a lengthy hospital stay, followed by doctors' appointments, follow-up surgeries, and months of physical or occupational therapy. And even then, there are challenges, as medical bills start rolling in. After that, many people are unsure about how to pursue a claim for compensation based on the injuries they have sustained.
At the Todd J. Leonard Law Firm, skilled New Jersey personal injury attorneys represent people injured in all types of cases, including car accidents, motorcycle crashes, truck wrecks, slip-and-falls and workplace accidents. We have over 30 years of experience successfully handling even the most complex and high-stakes cases for clients from all walks of life. Throughout this period, we have successfully served thousands of clients throughout New Jersey, recovering over $100 million for our clients.
General Personal Injury Statistics
According to a recent study, 70 percent of personal injury plaintiffs received some form of compensation, whether through settlement or trial.
- Ninety-six percent of these cases were resolved through settlement.
The amount each plaintiff received for their injuries was as follows:
- 16 percent of people injured in accidents: Less than $3,00
- 37 percent of those injured in accidents: $3,000 to $10,000
- 21 percent of people injured in accidents: $10,001 to $25,000
- 10 percent of those injured: $25,001 to $75,000
- 16 percent of injured people: More than $75,001
On average, those represented by attorneys fared better than unrepresented parties:
- Represented by an attorney: 91 percent received compensation
- Unrepresented: 51 percent received compensation
For those who obtained compensation for their injuries, the average amount was higher when represented by an attorney:
- The average recovery for those represented by an attorney: $77,600
- The average compensation for those who are unrepresented: $17,600
Those injured in accidents who accepted the first settlement offer obtained significantly less compensation for their injuries:
- Those who accepted the first settlement: $11,800
- Those who accepted a subsequent settlement offer: $42,500
Slip and Fall Statistics
- Falls are the leading cause of emergency room visits.
- Falls account for over 8 million emergency room visits each year, representing 21.3 percent of all E.R. visits.
- Slips and falls account for approximately 12 percent of all falls, or over 1 million emergency room visits.
- Floors and flooring materials contribute to more than 2 million fall injuries each year.
- Falls represent 40 percent of all nursing home admissions and are the sixth leading cause of death for people over 70 years old.
New Jersey Motor Vehicle Accident Statistics
Each year, there are more than 60,000 people injured in New Jersey car accidents. The counties with the most car accidents are:
- Bergen County
- Middlesex County
- Essex County
- Sussex County
- Camden County
- Monmouth County
- Passaic County
Car accidents are also a leading cause of injury and death in New Jersey.
- 2018: 200 fatalities
- 2019: 193 fatalities
- 2020: 169 fatalities
The counties with the most fatal car accidents are:
- Camden County
- Essex County
- Middlesex County
- Bergen County
- Gloucester County
Motorcyclists are more than 28 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and five times more likely to be injured.
Between 2012 and 2016, there were nearly 12,000 New Jersey motorcycle accidents.
While the number of fatalities due to motorcycle accidents varies each year, in recent history, the number has ranged from a low of 50 in 2015, to a high of 93 in 2011.
Between 2014 and 2018, 870 pedestrians were killed in New Jersey car accidents.
In 2019, 179 pedestrians were killed in New Jersey car accidents.
How a New Jersey Personal Injury Lawsuit Proceeds Through the Civil Justice System
Anytime a person is injured due to another's negligence, the injured person can pursue a claim for compensation against the responsible party. New Jersey personal injury lawsuits cover all types of accidents, including car, truck and motorcycle accidents, instances of medical malpractice, slip-and-falls and injuries caused by a dangerous or defective product. While the process varies somewhat depending on the type of case, generally, cases proceed along the same path.
A personal injury case can be filed anytime someone suffers injury due to another's negligent conduct. The negligence can be based on another's act or their failure to act, which is referred to as an "omission." Personal injury lawsuit can be brought against individuals, businesses, non-profits and, in some cases, a state, local or federal government.
The Physical Recovery Process
Unfortunately, after a serious accident, those involved typically sustain some type of injury. In a personal injury case, the injuries will vary according to the kind of accident; however, there is no threshold requirement defining the extent of damages that someone must suffer to pursue a claim.
In many cases, someone will be hospitalized after the accident. At the hospital, doctors will perform all the necessary tests to determine the extent of the injuries. Emergency surgeries may be performed, if required. Otherwise, operations are often scheduled for a later date. Once discharged from the hospital, the injured party will likely need to attend months of follow-up visits and may need subsequent surgeries. Many injured parties will need months of physical therapy before they return to work or the activities they enjoyed before the accident. In some unfortunate cases, injured parties may not ever fully recover.
Consulting With an Attorney
It is best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. However, in many cases involving severe injuries, many do not have the opportunity to discuss their situation with an attorney before obtaining medical care. At the latest, a person injured in an accident should consult with an attorney as soon as they are released from the hospital.
Meeting with a dedicated New Jersey personal injury attorney is a crucial step to the recovery process. An attorney can help you understand the specific circumstances of your case, including:
- Whether another party's negligence was likely the cause of your injuries;
- Which parties may be potentially named as defendants;
- The legal significance of your injuries;
- The relevant legal principles that would likely be implicated should you decide to file a case
- Your legal options.
At the Todd J. Leonard Law Firm, we offer free consultations to those involved and injured in accidents to discuss how we can help, and to answer any questions related to your case.
Once an injured party has an attorney, the investigation will begin. Of course, the type and extent of an investigation will depend somewhat on the circumstances surrounding the accident. However, a typical investigation will cover the following basics:
- Reviewing police reports
- Visiting and photographing the accident scene
- In car accident cases, inspecting the vehicle and reviewing the contents of the vehicle's "black box"
- Locate eyewitnesses and conduct interviews
- Obtaining and reviewing medical records
- Scouring potential third-party sources of other evidence
- Reviewing the injured party’s employment records, if any
An experienced New Jersey personal injury attorney will keep clients apprised of their case's status throughout the investigation process.
The Demand Letter
Before a personal injury case is filed, an attorney will often send the other parties a demand letter outlining the accident and detailing the extent of the injuries. A demand letter may include requested amounts for the following:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of the enjoyment of life
- Future medical care
The opposing party will then review the letter, likely with their attorney. They may then either accept the demand, make a counteroffer, or deny all liability. Under the New Jersey laws of evidence, any admission – partial or complete – made during settlement negotiations are inadmissible in a subsequent trial, so parties are free to openly discuss the case without fear of committing themselves to a position.
Demand letters are a crucial part of the recovery process, as this is often the first impression that the other side will get of the injured party and their attorney. Thus, demand letters must be professionally composed and thorough.
If the opposing party accepts the offer, or makes a counteroffer that is accepted by the injured party, then the parties will enter into a settlement agreement under which the at-fault party offers the agreed-upon compensation in exchange for the injury party’s agreement not to file a case now or in the future.
Filing a New Jersey Personal Injury Case
If the injured party is unable to reach a settlement agreement with the opposing party, then the next step is to file a personal injury case. An attorney will draft the complaint and specify the damages that are being sought.
The Pre-Trial Discovery Process
Once a case is filed, the next phase is the pre-trial discovery process. During this phase, both parties can request evidence from the other. In general, there are four basic types of discovery:
- Requests for the production of documents: Either side in a personal injury lawsuit can request specific documents from the opposing party. For example, a personal injury plaintiff may request vehicle safety information, accident statistics, prior customer complaints of slip-and-falls, medical records or photographs of the other vehicles involved in an accident.
- Depositions: Through the use of a deposition, the parties in a personal injury lawsuit can ask the other side questions regarding the accident, their injuries or other pertinent facts. Depositions are conducted with the presence of a court reporter, and the party who is answering the questions is under oath. Depositions help an experience New Jersey injury lawyer develop a strong trial strategy and obtain statements that can later be used at trial to impeach, or contradict, a testifying witness.
- Interrogatories: An interrogatory is a list of written questions one party sends to another. If the questions are not objected to, the party receiving the interrogatory has sixty days to answer the questions. All answers to interrogatories are under oath and, like answers given in a deposition, can be used to impeach a witness at trial.
- Requests for admissions: Similar to an interrogatory, a request for admission simply asks another party to admit or deny certain facts.
Most, but not all information is discoverable; however, privileged information and irrelevant information is not discoverable. The discovery process is perhaps one of the most important and nuanced aspects of a personal injury case because how questions are phrased and the order in which they are asked may impact how they are answered.
Mediation or Settlement Conference
After the discovery phase but before a case reaches trial, the parties may sit down with a mediator to discuss whether a non-trial resolution can be reached. Mediation is generally optional, and both parties must agree. In mediation, a neutral third party will discuss the case with each party individually, arguing their side. Once both parties have met with the mediator, both parties meet with the mediator together to discuss the issues involved and potentially come to a resolution.
If the parties in a New Jersey personal injury case cannot reach an agreement through mediation, the next phase is to go to trial. Most personal injury cases are heard before a jury, although in some situations, if the parties agree, a judge will hear the case. The judge or jury will then hear the evidence and render a decision.
While a lawyer's attention to detail and knowledge of the law is crucial in the earlier stages of a personal injury lawsuit, an attorney's ability to persuasively present the plaintiff’s story is often the most important part of the trial. Thus, it is critical for the injured parties to work with well-rounded, experienced trial attorneys who will not hesitate to take a case to trial if negotiations are not fruitful.
If a plaintiff is successful in establishing that one or more of the named defendants was legally responsible for their injuries, the next step is for the judge or jury to calculate the appropriate amount of damages. Damages are broken down into two categories, economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are those that can easily be assigned a monetary value. For example, the following are all types of economic damages:
- Compensation for lost wages;
- Compensation for any decrease in future earning capacity;
- Compensation for medical expenses, including medical bills and hospital expenses;
- Compensation for any related future medical expenses;
- Compensation for damaged property; and
- Compensation for any other out-of-pocket expenses, such as for travel to and from doctor's appointments.
In New Jersey, there is no limit to the amount of economic damages that a judge or jury can award to a plaintiff.
The other type of damages that are available in a New Jersey personal injury lawsuit are non-economic damages. Non-economic damages, while no less important than economic damages, are more difficult to assign a monetary value to, and require some subjectivity on the part of the judge or jury. Often, the amount of non-economic damages that are awarded depends on how well an attorney can tell a plaintiff's story. For example, it is crucial to convincingly explain the severity and extent of the plaintiff's injuries and how the accident impacted their life. New Jersey non-economic damages include:
- Compensation for the physical pain the injured party experienced;
- Compensation for the emotional distress caused by the accident;
- Compensation for the loss of enjoyment of activities;
- Compensation for the worsening of existing injuries; and
- Compensation for the temporary or permanent loss of relationships.
Unlike some other states, New Jersey law does not cap the maximum amount of non-economic damages that a judge or jury can award a plaintiff. However, New Jersey law does not permit a plaintiff's attorney to argue for a specific amount of compensation for non-economic losses.
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If you or loved one has recently been injured in any type of accident, contact one of the dedicated New Jersey personal injury attorneys at the Todd J. Leonard Law Firm to discuss your options. Our attorneys provide skillful, zealous advocacy on behalf of those involved in accidents across New Jersey.
Certified Civil Trial Attorney
Our New Jersey injury attorneys have over 30 years of experience aggressively representing accident sufferers in all types of claims. Throughout this period, we have successfully served thousands of clients throughout New Jersey, recovering over $100 million for our clients. The firm's founder, attorney Todd Leonard, has devoted his legal career to helping accident sufferers recover the compensation they need and deserve from the responsible parties.
To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation, give us a call today at (973) 920-7900 to request a free and confidential consultation. There is no risk in calling, because we never charge a fee unless we can help you recover compensation for your injuries. We have offices conveniently located in Denville and Morristown.