Vermont laws offer possible relief for people injured by someone else: the personal injury lawsuit. If another person’s actions injure you, you shouldn’t have to pay for the consequences on your own. From the measurable economic costs of your medical treatment to the non-economic costs of your pain and suffering, the court can compel the other party to compensate you for those damages.
There are specific requirements for when and how to file a personal injury lawsuit and Vermont has a few specific rules that differ from some other states, so it’s important to understand the laws that apply directly to your case in this state. While you may be tempted to go it alone, finding a reputable attorney in your area can make a big difference in helping you receive the compensation you deserve.
Lawsuits between two parties are tried in civil courts, where the court decides if one side owes financial compensation to the other for mostly restitution reasons. This contrasts with criminal courts, where a state or federal government brings charges against a person and the court decides if that person deserves a penalty for punitive reasons.
In a personal injury lawsuit, the injured person takes their case against the person who hurt them to a civil court in an attempt to collect money that covers the costs associated with the injury. Personal injury cases are intended to address the physical or mental injuries someone’s body sustains, typically excluding costs for property damage.
The injury could arise from many different types of circumstances, from the intentional to the unintentional.
Intentional personal injuries usually fall under batteries or assaults. If a person purposefully makes some kind of contact with your body, you may have grounds to sue for any injury you get as a result. In many cases, the intent to injure you is less important than the intent to just touch you; if someone makes contact with you that leads to an injury, they likely can’t use “but I didn’t mean to hurt them” as a valid excuse.
A person may still be liable for the costs of your injury even if they hurt you by accident.
In a case of negligence, a person could be responsible for paying your related costs if they hurt you unintentionally, but under circumstances that could have easily been prevented if they acted with a reasonable level of care. If a distracted driver using a handheld device, like texting on a cell phone, hit your car on the highway, they could be found guilty of negligence for not exercising a reasonable level of care behind the wheel. (Note that using a handheld phone while driving is also a punishable traffic violation in Vermont.)
Vermont follows a comparative negligence doctrine, which means the amount you receive in a negligent personal injury lawsuit could be reduced if you contributed to the circumstances of the accident. If the distracted driver hit your car, but you were changing lanes without a turn signal, the court could decide your negligence contributed to the circumstances of your accident. Perhaps the other driver’s texting made them too oblivious to your vehicle that they couldn’t stop in time, but the court could say if you had signaled appropriately the driver might have noticed sooner and had time to prevent a collision.
If that happens, you may receive reduced compensation in relation to your level of fault. If the court thinks your actions were 20 percent at fault for the accident, you’ll likely only be eligible for 80 percent of your requested amount. If you’re found more than 51 percent responsible, however, expect that you can’t recover any amount at all.
Strict liability injuries, on the other hand, occur in certain circumstances wherein someone uses appropriate levels of care, but is still responsible for any injuries they cause. A manufacturer who has reasonable safety procedures in their factory could therefore still be responsible for paying damages if a defective product happens to make it to market and injuries a consumer.
One of the biggest limits to pay attention to in a personal injury lawsuit, or any lawsuit for that matter, is the timeline defined by the statute of limitations. If you wait beyond the deadline for filing your lawsuit the court is likely to stop your case from going forward. In Vermont, that time limit is generally three years from the date of injury for a personal injury suit.
Vermont typically doesn’t limit the amount of money you can try to claim in your lawsuit, as long as your request is reasonable under the circumstances. You’re likely unable to claim $1 million in economic damages if your economic costs were only $10,000, for example. Non-economic or punitive costs could still increase the total amount, however.
The biggest exception is if you’re injured by a state government employee. Your non-economic damages can be capped at $500,000 per person in a personal injury lawsuit.
It’s very likely you can improve your case by hiring an experienced personal injury attorney. Filing a personal injury suit can be complicated by negotiations with insurance companies, court filing rules, and arguments made during a trial. Someone who knows the system well could help you identify additional eligible damage amounts, correctly file your case to save you time and money, and present a stronger case in court to help you get a more favorable outcome.
Injuries cost money, including time away from work, medical bills, and other complications. Before taking legal action or trying to negotiate a settlement on your own, you should talk to an attorney about your case. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local personal injury attorney to discuss the merits of your case. This one step can level the playing field, help you protect your rights, and put you in the best position for recovering the compensation that you deserve.