Any time there is personal injury involved in an accident or potential medical malpractice in Utah you should contact an attorney to determine if you are eligible for compensation. You can walk into an attorney’s new Salt Lake City office and quickly find out, at no cost to you, if your injury qualifies for damages under Utah personal injury laws. Of course the Salt Lake City personal injury laws are the same as Salt Lake City is a part of Utah. While the laws in Utah share some similarity with national laws governing personal injury claims, there are also some differences that should be known if you plan on filing a lawsuit in Utah courts.
Where to File your Lawsuit
Those looking for $10,000 or less in damages can file their personal injury claim in the small claims court. These claims are filed either in the county where you live or in the county where the accident occurred. So, if your accident occurred in Salt Lake County you would fall under Salt Lake City personal injury laws for small claims court filing. If your lawsuit is seeking a larger damage award you would file your claim in the District Court.
When should I file a Claim
Utah has a statute of limitations on personal injury claims of four years. This means you must file your claim within four years of the date of the accident. This statute of limitations is reduced to just two years for product liability and medical malpractice lawsuits. In both cases the claim must be filed within two years of discovering the problem or injury.
You meet the deadline and your personal injury case begins on the date you file a complaint with the court, which is a legal document that asks for damages and describes the accident and reasons for requesting damages. Once you file the complaint you will be known by the court as the plaintiff. After you file the complaint the person you are accusing (called the defendant) has 20 days to respond to the initial complaint. If the person lives outside Utah they have 30 days to respond to the complaint. The defendant has several options when responding to the complaint which include admitting fault and negotiating a settlement, denying that they are at fault for the accident, or filing a cross claim that puts the blame for the accident back on the plaintiff or on another person or organization.
How Does the Court Award Damages
Most lawsuits begin with requests for compensatory damages. These are things like medical expenses, repair of damaged property, or lost wages from time away from your job. You can also include non-economic damages as part of your lawsuit. These would be damages related to pain and suffering or emotional distress. There are no caps on these damages in most personal injury lawsuits, but in the case of medical malpractice and product liability Utah does have a cap of $450,000 for cases occurring after May 15, 2010. Punitive damages, or those intended to prevent similar conduct that caused the accident, are allowed in Utah, but only if willful negligence can be shown. Utah also has a comparative fault rule that allows for the liability for the injury to be shared between different parties. If the court finds that you were 50% or more responsible for your injuries you are unable to collect any damage award.
How to Prepare for Personal Injury Trial
Preparations for the actual trial can be a long and complicated process. A good part of this involves the preparation and exchange of information between the involved parties and the court. This is known as the discovery phase of the lawsuit and the activities involved can include the following:
• Preparation and exchange of medical records related to the case. These can be patient directed or they may be court ordered.
• Preparation and exchange of all documents related to the case, whether they are in physical or digital form.
• Creation of a witness list, including anyone present as well as expert witnesses. This list shall also include contact information for each witness.
• A list of written questions that the other side must answer, known as interrogatories, may be part of the discovery process.
The amount of time it takes to complete the discovery process varies from case to case and is legally related to the dollar amount of the lawsuit.
Settling Without a Trial
It is unusual for a personal injury case to actually make it to the trial stage. In most cases there is some sort of alternate dispute resolution such as arbitration, neutral party assessment, or mediation that brings the case to a settlement before it needs to go to trial. Utah does not legally require these alternate resolution methods, but they are used and encouraged because they are more economical and efficient than the trial system.
Going to Trial
If alternate dispute resolution is not effective the lawsuit will be scheduled for trial. The trial begins with the selection of eight jurors in cases seeking more than $20,000 in damages. Cases seeking less than this amount require only four jurors. Evidence is brought forward by both sides and the jurors then decide the verdict. It is necessary to have agreement from three quarters of the jurors to reach a verdict. If there are legal reasons to disagree with the verdict either side can file an appeal to the decision.
How Much Does it Cost
In most cases a personal injury lawyer will represent you on a contingency basis. This means they only get paid if your case is successful. The typical contingency fee for personal injury cases is 33%, though this can vary from lawyer to lawyer. In the case of medical malpractice, Utah only allows for a contingency fee of one third of the awarded damages. There may be other fees that are not covered by the contingency agreement, so be sure to check with any lawyer you contact about their fee structure.