There is reimbursement of medicals, your billing, your expenses. If you suffer a loss of wages that’s also recoverable and then what everybody knows which is called pain and suffering. These are the basic areas, but pain and suffering is tough to evaluate in New Jersey.
There’s no guideline that the juries are given. There’s no chart, there’re no comparative numbers that the court gives to the jurors. The jurors are merely told to use their common sense. So what we are left with from the attorney’s side, and certainly from the insurance side, is understanding and knowing what similar cases have settled for over the years, and that trend has changed over time, and have a general knowledge of what similar cases or similar injuries have settled for.
Those are used as a guideline in asking for, and perhaps recommending or not recommending certain settlement offers. But the jury is not really given any concrete guidelines other than using their common sense, and the court will only step in if the award does not appear to follow common sense. So the court is not likely to come in and change the results.
In a slip and fall, it’s documenting what the condition looked like, or was when you fell. Talking about an ice and snow setting, it’s essential to know what the weather was not only that day, but a couple of days before. It’s essential to have witnesses if they’re available.
It’s essential for the person to know that they truly slipped on the ground and the mechanism of how they fell to the ground. If photographs are available, either then or immediately afterwards, you want them.
If the attorney hears about it the same day, there’s still time to get someone out to take photographs of where the fall occurred. If that situation occurs, the attorney would like the client to be there to show them or to show their investigator where they fell so they have an accurate location which is important because you certainly don’t want to take pictures of the wrong area.
So the strategy there is documenting the condition as close to the time of the fall as possible and understanding what the weather was so you know the responsibility of the land owner in making that area safe and that they didn’t do so.
With regard to a defective condition, it’s likely that condition will still be present the following day or the following week, at least until, and hopefully before the owner repairs that defective condition; you can get down there and document the condition. That means photographs, and that means measurements.
In some situations, it’s important to send an engineer down to evaluate the condition and assist with the documentation so that they can form an opinion as to whether the defective condition was the responsibility of the owner.
For example, if something wasn’t built to code or that the condition was so dangerous it required immediate repair to make safe. Or if the stairway wasn’t built correctly, or had crumbled over time or it wasn’t correctly maintained.
So recognizing whether you will need an engineer at the early stages of the case is important, because if you decide that you’ll get an engineer a year or two later and you haven’t documented what was there, you may have a real problem in demonstrating that there was a defective or dangerous condition which was the responsibility of the owner.
Clients generally know that they need an engineer and that they need this level of documentation.
No. People always get confused by that.
Most cases do settle, but the phrase out of court really is kind of misleading because more often than not, the more serious case has been filed in court. The discovery has been done. There’s been not only exchange of written material, but people have been given testimony and depositions.
There have been a variety of appearances in court, and the matter may settle prior to trial. Sometimes, people do call that an out of court settlement, and strictly you’re not in the courthouse when you reach that agreement to settle, but you are in court the day you file the complaint, which is the first document that is filed for the plaintiff by their attorney.
If an out of court settlement is achieved, it is before any formal papers are filed with the court, before a complaint is filed, and that does occur a lot and is generally much quicker than any case that’s been filed in court.
In many cases, you are able to settle before you file suit, and strictly out of court, because you’ve done your job and the client has reached a stable medical plateau where you fully understand their injury and are able to make an understandable demand in settlement, meaning how much money do you want for your client.
If that client is still under treatment and their medical condition is unstable, more often than not you are filing suit to start the process rolling and allow your client to heal and come to that stable point. So the phrase out of court settlement is used too often, and many times incorrectly.
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