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What is personal-injury law?

Personal-injury law concerns injuries people experience caused by negligent or intentional conduct of others. This area of the law seeks to compensate you for any medical expenses, lost wages, pain, suffering, disfigurement or disability which you incur or will incur, as the result of another’s negligence.

Do I need a lawyer?

If you have been seriously injured as the result of another’s negligence, you should immediately consult an experienced personal injury attorney to determine whether you have grounds for suit and possible compensation. There is no charge for this initial consultation. The attorney can evaluate your claim and inform you whether the case should be pursued. If you decide to hire the attorney, they can assist you in being justly compensated.

The attorney will be paid through a percentage of proceeds recovered by way of either settlement or trial. Any costs incurred in pursuing the claim will generally be advanced by the attorney and paid for at the conclusion of the case.

When should I see a lawyer?

As soon after your injury as possible. A prompt visit with an attorney is important for several reasons. Such cases require prompt investigation in order to preserve evidence such as photographs, witness statements, etc. The opposing party will almost always have an insurer or other investigator looking into the facts and you too should have someone on your side. Also, your claim must be filed within certain time limits or it will be terminated. There are various time limits for certain personal injury actions, and thus, only an attorney can explain the limitations applicable to your specific case. Unless other factors are present, a negligence action in Wisconsin generally must be filed within three years of your injury. Note, however, different time limitations apply to governmental entities and injuries caused by intentional conduct.

What is a “tort”?

The word “tort” is a legal term that simply means any wrongfully inflicted injury for which the law provides a remedy. There are many different kinds of torts, but they generally fall into four categories. NEGLIGENCE: Careless conduct that unintentionally injures another person. INTENTIONAL: Conduct intended to harm another, including assault and battery, fraud, theft, trespass, invasion of privacy and defamation. STRICT DUTY: Failure to provide for the safety of another in certain circumstances, even though there is no negligence or intent to cause harm. An example of strict duty applies to manufacturers or sellers of defective or unreasonably dangerous products. NO FAULT: Liability without regard to fault, responsibility or negligence. Examples include certain activities that are unusually hazardous, such as the builder who uses dynamite to demolish an old building. Also included are employee suits against employers and co-employees for work-related injuries.

What should I do if I’ve been in an automobile accident?

If you have been injured in an automobile accident, there are several things you should do at the scene to protect your rights: (1) Do not state that the accident was your fault. Admissions at the scene of an accident are often made under the influence of shock or with a lack of knowledge; (2) Do not automatically resist offers of medical help. Shock or adrenaline may prevent you from feeling any immediate pain or from making a wise decision regarding your need for medical help. If you are in pain or even experience a momentary loss of consciousness, go to the hospital. If you experience any distress, see your family doctor as soon as possible. Delaying medical treatment is unwise from both medical and legal standpoints; (3) Carefully note the scene of the accident and position of the vehicles, exchange driver information and obtain the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all witnesses; (4) Report the accident to your own insurance company as soon as possible. Keep in mind that a claim may be made against you, even if you were not given a ticket and feel that the accident was not your fault. One of the advantages of liability insurance is that the insurance company will investigate and defend claims made against you. Also, your insurance company is obligated to pay your legal fees if a lawsuit is started against you.

You may decide not to pursue any claim for injury. However, if you are asked to sign a release, you should consult an attorney. A release is a legally binding document that forgives the other party’s liability without necessarily excusing your own liability. If you are offered money in return for signing the release, remember that the full extent of your injury may not become apparent until later. Be especially alert for surveillance by the insurance company and instruct your relatives, friends and associates to treat any inquiries about you with suspicion. Remember that insurance investigators can be devious and falsely sympathetic in their attempts to obtain information. It is best to instruct your family and friends not to give out any information to anyone.

In order for your claim to succeed, you must show that the accident was caused by the carelessness of the other driver. At the same time, you must show that you did not contribute to your own injury by not wearing a seat belt, driving too fast for conditions, riding with a driver who had been drinking, etc. In Wisconsin, your own contributory negligence will reduce the amount of your recovery, provided it does not exceed the negligence of the other driver. For instance, if the other driver is found 50% negligent, your compensation will be reduced by half. If your contributory negligence is 51%, you receive no compensation for your injury.

Why is insurance important in automobile accidents?

Insurance is a critical factor in determining whether or not to pursue your claim. If the other driver does not have insurance, you may make a claim under the uninsured motorist provision of your own policy. Every automobile insurance policy written in Wisconsin must include uninsured coverage. An uninsured motorist can be a hit-and-run driver who is not found. Insurance against such drivers covers you and family members even if you were not in the automobile when the accident occurred, e.g., walking down the street, riding your bike, sitting on your porch, etc. Your uninsured motorist coverage should have high enough policy limits to cover yourself and your family against substantial injury. Often the limits are too low to cover your damages. However, other policies may apply to your claim, and an experienced personal injury attorney can determine what insurance is available to pay for your claim.

Sometimes the other driver does have insurance, but his policy limit is too low to cover your damages. The uninsured motorist provision of your own policy would not apply in this situation. It is, therefore, wise for you to obtain under-insurance coverage, which would apply to your claim in excess of the other driver’s policy limits.

Adequate automobile and homeowner’s insurance is essential in protecting your rights in case of injury. This is true if you make a claim or someone makes a claim against you.

What should I do if I’ve been hurt on someone else’s property?

This type of tort relates to injuries caused by unsafe premises. For example, the owner of a building may forget to repair broken steps or to remove ice from the sidewalk. A hotel owner may fail to provide adequate security for guests. All property owners must generally exercise reasonable care. In addition, Wisconsin has a “safe-place statute,” which says that owners of public buildings or places of employment, not including farms or homes, must construct, repair and maintain the premises to be as free from danger to others as possible. This demands a great deal of care on the owner’s part. But, you must also exercise care for your own safety. Your contributory negligence will reduce your recovery or may defeat your claim entirely. Also, if you are a trespasser, the landowner does not owe you a duty of ordinary care. He only has a duty to refrain from willfully and intentionally injuring you, although in some circumstances he may have a duty to warn known trespassers of highly dangerous conditions.

What happens if I’ve been injured by a defective product?

The old adage “let buyer beware” is no longer the rule in the manufacture and sale of goods and machines. Manufacturers and sellers of defective products or products whose labels or instructions fail to warn you of the likely hazards of improper use are responsible for your injury caused by such products. A seller or manufacturer can be sued for negligence or strict liability. Strict liability means that a consumer has the right to not be injured if he uses the product the way it was intended to be used and according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Typically, manufacturers will defend their product by claiming improper use, failure to heed warnings or follow instructions, or alterations by the purchaser.

A “product” is anything that is sold, except services and real estate. Machinery used in industry, in the office, on the farm or in the home is frequently the cause of injury and litigation. The same is true of food products sold in restaurants, groceries sold in supermarkets and drug products sold over-the-counter and by prescription.

Product liability litigation is an intricate and specialized area of tort law. It takes an experienced attorney to deal with the intricacies of products liability.

What should I do if I’ve been injured at work?

In most cases, you can’t sue your employer or co-workers for negligence regarding a work-related injury. Usually, Worker’s Compensation laws are your only remedy against them, but it provides only limited benefits and permits no financial recovery for your pain and suffering. Other persons or companies responsible for causing your injury may, however, be pursued. For instance, if you are working on a punch press and the machine unexpectedly recycles and injures your hand, you may sue the manufacturer of the machine for negligence or failure to provide for your safety. In the event you develop a lung disease as a result of exposure to asbestos at work, you may have a right to sue the manufacturer or supplier of the asbestos for not warning you of the dangers of exposure. Or if your injury is caused by the negligence of an employee of another company or an independent contractor, you may have a right to sue.

If you have suffered a significant work-related injury, you should talk to an experienced personal injury attorney for an evaluation of your potential third-party claim. The importance of this evaluation increases with the severity of the injury because worker’s compensation may only pay for a fraction of your total damages.

Do I have a right to be compensated?

If you are the victim of a tort, generally, the law provides the remedy of just compensation. The wrongdoer is financially responsible for your injury, your medical expenses, your loss of wages and reduced earning capacity, your disability or disfigurement, your property damage, and your pain and suffering. If the tort is intentional or if the negligence is willful and unrighteous, you may also be awarded punitive damages, i.e., money taken from the wrongdoer to punish him or her and deter similar conduct in the future.

If the injury has caused death, the surviving spouse and dependent children may have a claim against the wrongdoer for their economic loss and loss of society and companionship. The spouse and children may also have a claim for funeral and medical expenses and for any pain and suffering the deceased experienced prior to death.

Should I sue or not?

Not all personal injury claims are worth pursuing, even if you deserve to receive money for your injury. The severity of your injury is an important consideration. But other factors should be considered, including the level of fault of the wrongdoer, your own liability for the injury, and the ability of the wrongdoer to pay for the claim. Therefore, insurance is a critical factor in determining whether or not to pursue your claim. Suing an uninsured defendant of limited means may be worthless.

Intentional torts are generally not covered by insurance and, therefore, may not be worth pursuing. However, what may appear to be an intentional tort may, in fact, be merely negligence. For instance, you may be the victim of a practical joke that misfires and injures you. Although the practical joke was intentional, the injury was not. Thus, your injury should be covered by available liability insurance.

What should I do as a tort victim?

If you decide to pursue a personal injury claim, consult a reputable and experienced personal injury lawyer. Look for lawyers listed in “The Best Lawyers in America” or the “Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers”. An attorney cannot pay to be listed in these references. Rather, judges and other attorneys in the community are surveyed and through this process a lawyer may be listed in their field of legal expertise. Such attorneys generally have a reputation for effective representation that works to their clients’ advantage in settling cases fairly and quickly. Moreover, they have the resources to properly investigate and develop your claim, thereby maximizing your recovery.

How can Murphy & Prachthauser help?

We have a staff of over 20 professionals who have, by choice, limited their law practice to the representation of those who have been injured and their families. We have a diverse group of people within our firm who are educated and experienced in medicine, insurance, accounting, and of course, the law. We enjoy our work and are very proud of the results we have achieved on behalf of our clients. Although the amount of money damages awarded by a jury is only one measure of the quality of our work, we are deeply gratified to know that in recent years, many families we have represented have been awarded jury verdicts or settlements exceeding a million dollars. In addition, we take great pride in the professional recognition that has been given to our firm. We are recognized in both “The Best Lawyers in America” and “Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers” which name only “the best legal talent” and “most highly-regarded attorneys practicing today”. In addition, our firm has been named in all three surveys conducted by Milwaukee Magazine of Milwaukee’s Best Lawyers.

Our firm has earned a national reputation for handling cases involving catastrophic injuries such as brain injuries or paralysis and death caused by defective products, unsafe premises, car accidents, medical malpractice or other forms of negligence. As a result, we have also been involved in cases throughout the United States including cases within Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Utah.

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