Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

ph_faq-DSC_0260Disclaimer:

Cooper Sevillano is available to answer any questions you may have over the phone or via e-mail.  The best way to find out whether we can help you with a particular case is to call our administrative assistant, Heather, and arrange for a free in person meeting with one of our attorneys.  Please call us at 203.366.0660 or email us at info@coopersevillano.com.

Q:  How do I know if I have a personal injury case?

A:  First, you must demonstrate that you have been injured.  In most cases, you will need to show some kind of physical bodily injury although there may be times when an extreme emotional injury alone will suffice to make a claim.

Second, you must demonstrate that someone else is at fault for causing your injury.  Third, you must show that the injuries you are claiming are real and were caused by the wrongdoing of the other party.  Note that your injury need not have been caused by the other party’s intentional wrongdoing (i.e. assault) and most often will be caused by someone’s negligence (i.e. the driver who hit you was distracted).

Q:  How do I know if I have a medical malpractice case?

A:  Medical malpractice occurs when you or someone you love is harmed as a result of medical treatment that falls below recognized standards of care for a particular field of medicine.  Any kind of healthcare provider can be negligent for violating the standard of care that applies to his/her particular profession, be it neurosurgery, obstetrics, internal medicine, physician assistant, nursing, etc.  Before you can sue a healthcare provider in Connecticut for malpractice, however, you must find an expert in the same or similar field of medicine to state in writing that your doctor, nurse, physician assistant, physical therapist, chiropractor, or other provider who was negligent in your treatment.  To win at trial, you must prove three things.  First, you must establish through expert testimony that your healthcare provider committed negligence in your care.  Second, you must establish through experts that your injuries are linked to the medical malpractice you are suing about.  Third, you must establish through experts that the injuries you are claiming are real.  As you can see, in a medical malpractice case experts are essential.  Over the years we have built relationships with several qualified experts who can help us present your case to a jury.

Q:  Do I need a lawyer?

A:  To be frank, maybe not.  If you are involved in a very minor car accident and suffer property damage only, or only very minor injuries such as a bruised knee that last a day or two, you can probably handle the claim without an attorney.  If, however, you suffer a more significant injury, or your case involves complex issues of medical malpractice, or is complicated by multiple parties with potential liability, you will be better served having an experienced personal injury attorney on your side.  An attorney will also communicate with the insurance company or companies handling the claim, so you don’t have to.  Even if you think your case is straightforward, an experienced personal injury attorney is likely to recover more financial compensation for your injuries and losses than you could on your own.

Q:  How much does a personal injury lawyer cost?

A:  Cooper Sevillano handles all of its personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis which means we are only paid if we recover money on our clients’ behalves.  The portion of the recovery that we retain if we win depends on the nature of the case.  Generally speaking, we will retain 20% in workers’ compensation cases, 33 1/3% in complex medical malpractice, birth injury and defective drug cases, and anywhere from 33 1/3% to 10% in all other cases including motor vehicle and premises liability depending on the amount of the recovery we obtain for our client.

Q:  What are case disbursements or costs and who pays them?

A:  Disbursements are the costs of litigation that Cooper Sevillano pays to others on behalf of its clients in order to properly build a case.  Depending on the case, these payments may inlcude court filing fees, court reporter fees, investigative charges, Marshal and other service fees, medical record retrieval fees, expert witness and consultant fees and trial preparation costs.  In most cases Cooper Sevillano does not seek repayment of disbursements unless the case results in a recovery.  Even then, we don’t charge interest.

Q:  What are liens and how might they affect my case?

A:  When your case is about to be finalized, your attorney will have to give due consideration to paying back certain medical expenses or lost wages.  In Connecticut, these claims are called liens and depending on the type of lien asserted and the party who paid it, you may or may not be obligated by law to pay all or some of it back out of the proceeds recovered in your case.  Examples of liens in personal injury cases can be by statute (such as Medicaid, Medicare or Workers’ Compensation) or via direct contract (like a promise to pay for medical treatment out of the proceeds of any recovery).  Things get trickier when the lien holder is a private third party without a statutory lien right such as a health insurer or an ERISA health benefit plan.  Cooper Sevillano’s attorneys are adept at both identifying valid liens (and knocking out invalid ones) and negotiating down the client’s payback obligation when practicable to maximize his or her take home recovery.

Q:  How soon after I am injured do I have to file a lawsuit?

A:  The statute of limitations is a law that sets out the legal time for bringing a case against someone else.

Generally speaking, the law in Connecticut requires you to file a personal injury lawsuit for negligence within two (2) years from the date when you are injured.  The law also requires you to file your case no later than three (3) years from the date you claim someone injured you, even if it is difficult or impossible for you to know that you were injured by someone else’s negligence right away (such as in a failure to diagnose cancer case).  One way to get around this three (3) year limit in medical malpractice cases is by establishing a continuing failure of your doctor to tell you about his/her mistake.  However, tolling provisions like this should only be used as a last resort.

If you are injured and want to sue a municipality or the state of Connecticut or one of its political subdivisions such as a public school board or a police department or the DOT, you are usually required to give notice of your intent to make a claim, sometimes as early as ninety (90) days from the date of the accident.

If you are interested in suing a manufacturer or seller of a defective product, you generally have three (3) years from the date when you are injured.  However, certain products actions may not be brought against a party more than ten (10) years from when that party last parted with possession or control of the product regardless of when you suffered, or should have realized you suffered, an injury unless an express warranty provides for a useful life greater than ten (10) years or the seller engaged in fraud.

A case for wrongful death in Connecticut must be initiated within two (2) years of the date of death and not more than five (5) years from the date of the wrongful conduct that caused the death.

If you are a railroad employee seeking to make a FELA claim against the railroad you must bring a claim within three (3) years of the date of injury.

If you would like to sue the owner of a dog in Connecticut for injuries sustained in a dog attack, you technically have two options.  You can either sue under the Connecticut dog bite liability statute, which requires you to initiate a lawsuit within three (3) years of the attack, or under Connecticut’s general negligence statute which only allows for two (2) years.

Q:  What if a person dies before bringing a personal injury lawsuit?

A:  In Connecticut, if a person dies as a result of someone else’s wrongdoing, that person’s heirs may recover money through what is known as a wrongful death lawsuit.  Even if a person with an existing claim dies due to unrelated causes having nothing to do with the injuries sustained in the lawsuit, the claim can continue to be pursued by a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate.

Q:  What is negligence?

A:  Negligence is the primary basis for establishing liability or fault in the majority of personal injury cases.  In its simplest definition, it is the failure to use that level of care an ordinarily careful person would use in the same circumstance.  In this context, doing what an ordinarily careful person would do means doing what a person acting carefully would do if faced with the same situation.  Negligence can also occur when a person does something that an ordinarily careful person would not do.  In Connecticut, if you can demonstrate that your injuries were caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your economic losses as well as your human losses or your pain and suffering.

Q:  Besides negligence, is there any other basis upon which I can recover for my injuries?

A:  Yes.  Some individuals or companies may be held strictly liable for engaging in certain activities that harm others, even if they have not acted negligently or carelessly.  Under a theory of strict liability, a person injured by a defective or unexpectedly dangerous product, for example, may recover compensation from the manufacturer or seller of the product without having to prove that the maker or seller was actually negligent.  In Connecticut, a person injured by a dog attack may recover for injuries from the owner or keeper of the dog without having to prove that the owner or keeper was negligent.  Also, individuals or companies engaged in using explosives, storing dangerous substances or housing dangerous animals can be strictly liable for harm caused to others as a result of such activities.  Finally, individuals and companies may be held intentionally liable for their deliberate acts as compared to their negligent ones.  Intentional conduct cases include: physical assault, sexual assault, sexual abuse, battery, slander, libel, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.  Although the damages recoverable under intentional claims tend to be broader than those premised on negligence (i.e., extreme emotional injuries alone may suffice), it can be difficult to establish that someone else acted with specific intent or with the necessary mental state of intentionally performing the act that caused someone’s injury.

Q:  How long does my personal injury case take?

A:  Although it may sound like we are dodging the question, it is very difficult to make accurate time predictions outside the context of a particular case.  Some of our very straightforward cases – those with few if any disputed issues of liability or damages – are resolved within several months of our taking your case.  Some of our more complex cases and many of our trial cases will last longer and can stretch on for years.  If a trial becomes necessary, the court will set a timetable of events that all parties must work within.  Although the parties have some say in scheduling, to a large degree your trial date will be set by the court.

Q:  Will my case go to trial?

A:  Statistically, only approximately 5% of all personal injury cases go to trial.  Although Cooper Sevillano’s percentage is slightly higher, the reality is that most cases do settle.  Whether not your case will eventually go to trial depends on a myriad of factors, including the strength of your case, your expected recovery, the position of the defendant (and their insurance company), your willingness to go to trial, our advice on your chances of success, etc.  Any case can ultimately be tried.  The ones that do are usually the ones in which either the plaintiff or the defendant feel so strongly about the issues involved in the case or view the case so differently that it makes the prospect of settlement virtually impossible.  The primary benefit of settling short of trial is that it eliminates all risk.  Those of us who have followed jury trials know that they can be risky propositions and that it is impossible to know what a jury will do in any given case.  That said, at Cooper Sevillano we believe that if the defendant’s last pre-trial offer is not within proximity of the true value of the case, and if our client is ready to have his/her day in court, we can convince juries to do the right thing and provide appropriate compensation for our clients’ injuries.

Q:  What is the value of my case?

A:  Again, it may sound like we are dodging the question, but since every case is different, it is very difficult to predict ahead of time how much any personal injury case is worth.  Any sound analysis must begin, however, with the type of injury you have sustained and the nature of the losses you have suffered.  From there, you must also consider the degree of the defendant’s culpability and how easy it will be to establish his/her fault in causing your injury.  Technically speaking, the value of your personal injury case in Connecticut is determined by what six (6) jurors of your peers say it is at trial.  There is no exact science.

Not every claim is worth a million dollars.  In evaluating a claim, we use our decades of experience to exhaust all avenues of recovery and formulate a range of what we believe would constitute a fair settlement in your case.  With a former insurance defense attorney on our team, we are better able to arrive at a fair but realistic value.  If a defendant or an insurance company makes an offer that fits squarely within our range, then the case has a good chance to settle.  If, however, the offer is at the low end of the range or below it, and our client wants his/her day in court, we have the experience and the willingness to reject the offer and try the case instead.  It is no secret that insurance companies know which attorneys and which law firms actually try cases and which do not.  At Cooper Sevillano, we are first and foremost skilled trial attorneys.  We prepare every case as if we are going to trial.  This enables us the most flexibility if our client should choose to continue to trial and often gives us the upper hand in negotiations.  We are also sensitive to the fact that some our clients do not want to go to trial and would rather settle the matter outside of court.  By preparing every case, we are able to maximize the amount of the recovery we obtain for our clients instead of sitting back and simply accepting what the insurance company tells us it wants to pay on any particular case.

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