North Dakota Personal Injury Attorneys
North Dakota is a fantastic place to live and raise a family. It is a state filed with precious natural resources and hardworking people. The four seasons we enjoy make every day unique and exciting. Unfortunately, these unique qualities sometimes create negative consequences. Inclement weather can make for poor driving conditions which increases the possibility of motor vehicle accidents. The oilfield, with all of its economic benefits, also carries with it the dangers of working on rigs and pad sites.
Sustaining an injury can affect one’s life in a number of ways. From mild accidents to life altering events, sustaining an injury can be especially frustrating if it was caused by the negligence or intentional wrongdoing of another person. In these types of cases, you need an experienced attorney that will be able to recover the compensation you deserve.
Many times, insurance companies try to settle claims for pennies on the dollar, leaving injured people stuck to pay outrageous doctor bills and other expenses. Our attorneys fight to get you the compensation you deserve for things like lost wages, pain and suffering, and medical expenses.
Personal injury cases have a lot of moving parts and can at times seem confusing. Here’s a rundown of how we handle a case from start to finish:
Every personal injury case at our firm begins with the intake process. This is the opportunity to first here about the details of case, how you have been affected, and to see if we are a good fit for you. The intake process consists of gathering initial information such as your contact information, the date of that the accident or injury occurred, whether you have sought medical treatment or are continuing to seek medical treatment, and how much this has set you back. Meaning, we want to begin to get a good idea of the amount of medical bills, lost wages, and possibly lost property value you have incurred.
For example, if you have been involved in a car accident then you may have expenses for car repair costs and rental car fees. You may also have outstanding bills from an ambulance ride, the emergency room, your treating physician, and potentially s specialty physician such as an orthopedic surgeon. You may have also missed work and are out of a paycheck. All of these factors are important for us to know as we move forward with your case.
We handle personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. Meaning that if there is no recovery, there is no fee. Also, we cover all of the costs up front which only get reimbursed if we are able to recover financial compensation in your case. These costs generally come in the form of expert reports, court filing fees, deposition fees, arbitration and/or mediation fees, as well as expert witness fees. Our contingency fee for most of our cases is 33.3%. Occasionally, if the case were to go to formal litigation or is for some reason an exceptionally difficult case to undertake, that figure may increase.
Once we the attorneys and you the client have signed the retainer agreement, our office sends out letters of representation to all interested parties. These parties usually consist of insurance companies, law firms, opposing parties, and sometimes a state agency depending on the type of case. For example, in a motor vehicle accident, we would need to send letters to your insurance company, the other driver’s insurance company, any lawyers the other driver may have hired, and to a no-fault insurance provider. This lets everybody involved know that they have to deal directly with us, the lawyers, and cannot contact you under any circumstances without first speaking with us.
One of the most important aspects of a personal injury case is to be as prepared as possible. This is where good record mining comes into play. Often times, the records we seek to retrieve depend on the type of case. For a wrongful death case we would need to get any police incident reports, autopsy records, death certificate, as well as financial information on the deceased to establish how dependent their loved ones may have been on them. For a slip and fall case, we typically would request any video or photographic evidence of the scene in order to prove that the area was in an unsafe condition. For oilfield injury cases we would need to review employment records to determine whether there is a third-party liability claim available. For truck accident cases, we ask to see the semi-truck driver’s logs to make sure he wasn’t driving over the regulated hours. For dog bite injury cases, we would want any records showing that the dog had a history of violence.
Finally, for auto accident cases, we would want to get the local police or state patrol crash incident reports as well as any medical records, EMT reports, or emergency room documentation. These records are the building blocks for an aggressive strategy on how to prosecute your particular injury matter.
Case Summary Compilation
Once we have collected and reviewed all of the records and reports in your case, we then sit down to draft a case summary. This consists of a number of items such as a medical records summary, an out-of-pocket summary (medical bills, etc.), a wage loss schedule, and in many cases a preliminary expert report by either a medical professional or crash reconstruction expert. Much of this information is also included in what is called a demand letter, which we will discuss below. The case summary is generally sent over to the at-fault party’s insurance company so that they will have all of the information accessible once we begin negotiations.
A demand letter is our first opportunity to inform the at-fault party’s insurance company what we believe the case to be worth in dollars and cents. For many, this may seem like a cold approach, money being the only remedy. Unfortunately, the justice system does not allow us to go back in time and prevent an accident or bring a lost loved one back to life.
The remedy the courts provide is financial compensation. The way most cases are valued are by calculating the losses and damages and also comparing the information to similar cases that have been awarded jury verdicts or out of court settlements. When we send over a formal demand, settlement talks have begun to initiate. Often, we will give the insurance company a deadline on how long they have to respond.
The length of the negotiation process depends on a number of variables. For instance, if a client is still treating their injury through physical therapy or some other form of treatment – then the process may take a little longer because we don’t know exactly how many bills they will have at that moment in time. However, if a client is done treating and simply wants to move on with their lives, get their bills paid, be compensated for their pain and suffering, and move on – then the process can move more expeditiously. Every case is unique in its own regard.
Arbitration and Mediation
If negotiations come to a standstill, a common exercise is for the parties to enter into what is called arbitration and/or mediation. This is where the parties agree upon a third-party neutral to listen to both sides of the case and help the parties arrive at a resolution. At this stage in the game, medication is generally non-binding. This means that if the parties fail to come to an agreement that they can continue to pursue other avenues, such as formal litigation.
Commencing a Lawsuit
If the parties are unable to settle the case in what is called the “pre-litigation” phase, then the next step is for us to formally serve the opposing party with a summons and complaint that later gets filed with the court. This is when official personal injury court proceedings begin. A judge is assigned to the case and a scheduling order of events is issued.
The discovery portion of a case is when all of the information is exchanged between the parties. This goes above and beyond what has already been exchanged up to this point. The parties can ask specific questions of each other referred to as “interrogatories.” They may also ask for the exchange of certain physical evidence such as photographs, bank records, social media posts, and tax records. The parties also have the opportunity to “depose” one another. This is a fancy legal term for a lawyer being allowed to ask the other party questions face to face with a court reporter making an official record of what is said.
At this stage in litigation, the parties have the opportunity to move the court with certain requests. These requests can be as basic as asking that certain facts be removed from evidence or that the case be thrown out of court in its entirety. This is called a “motion for summary judgment.” This means that one party moves the court to dismiss the entire action because there are not enough facts to prove the case before a jury. This is one of the largest obstacles in any personal injury matter. It is key that the action survive summary judgment in order to continue with the case.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Once summary judgment is overcome, it is common for the parties to again go before a mediator or an arbitrator in order to settle the case. The same process as described above in the medication section applies here, only this time the process is court ordered.
Over 98% of all cases never reach this stage. However, for those that do there is a certain set of events that must be followed. A trial first begins with selecting a jury. The jury is made up of men and women that live in the local community. This is called a “jury of one’s peers.” In North Dakota, the most common jury size is a jury of nine people. In selecting a jury, the attorneys are able to remove prospective jurors if they are able to show that the particular juror has a bias towards a certain aspect of the case. Other factors such as health problems or familial obligations can play a role as to who stays and who gets kicked off of the jury.
Once a jury is selected, each attorney has an opportunity to make an opening argument. This is their first chance to describe the case and their position to the jury. The plaintiff goes first followed by the defense lawyer. Each side then has the opportunity to present their case in chief through calling witnesses and presenting evidence to the jury. The opposing attorney also has the chance to cross-examine witnesses and dispute any evidence. After the jury has heard all of the evidence, the attorneys have one final chance to plead their case through what is known as “closing arguments.” The judge will then issue specific legal instructions to the jury where they then retire to the jury room to decide the case.
Post-Trial Motions and Appeals
Once the trial has been completed, a party may have a right to dispute rulings made by the trial court judge though motions or appellate work. If the judge is overruled by the appellate court, the case may have to be re-tried in its entirety.
North Dakota Personal Injury Laws
The most important rule to consider for any personal injury case is whether the statute of limitations has passed. For most personal injury cases such as car accidents, truck accidents, and slip and falls – the statute of limitations is six years. However, wrongful death cases have only a two-year statute of limitation.
Other important rules established by both the courts as well as the legislature have to do with damages. That is, the amount of compensation a party may be awarded for a specific injury. For medical malpractice cases, there is a limit as to how much a plaintiff may recover for non-economic damages. These types of damages include pain and suffering, humiliation, and permanent disfigurement. In North Dakota, the cap is $500,000. Additionally, any award for economic damages that exceeds $250,000 may be reviewed and altered by the court if they find the award to be unreasonable.
Types of Damages
Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be able to recover monetary relief for the following reasons:
- Disabilities that are a result of your injury
- Disfigurement that is a result of your injury
- Embarrassment incurred
- Emergency room and/or medical expenses
- Emotional distress or mental anguish
- Funeral costs
- Loss of care or companionship of a loved one
- Lost future economic support
- Lost wages
- Pain and Suffering
With office located in Watford City, Williston, Minot and Bismarck, the personal injury lawyers are strategically positioned to handle cases throughout the State of North Dakota.