A Guide to Personal Injury Law in Oregon
Accidents happen, whether you’re walking down the street, out on a bike ride, or sitting in your car. But when you’re injured in an accident, it can change your entire life—sometimes permanently. And for the family members of victims who don’t survive their injuries, the pain will never go away.
Personal injury law can’t make up for the pain, suffering, and loss of life that occurs in so many accidents. Getting compensation after an accident can help, however, by paying for medical treatments, time off work, and the physical and emotional pain a person or family endures after an accident.
Lots of people need extensive physical therapy to recover. Many people need help from a mental health professional after an accident to work through the trauma of the experience and feel safe again. Some need to make a career change if they’re injured badly enough to affect their work. Every situation is different, but every victim matters and deserves compensation.
To get the compensation you deserve after an accident, you’ll need the help of a personal injury attorney. Getting started as quickly as possible will help you get paid more quickly and preserve any evidence you might need to present. Here’s everything you need to know about personal injury law in Oregon.
When Should You File a Personal Injury Claim?
You should only file a personal injury claim when you were injured in an accident due to someone else’s negligence and the accident caused you personal losses. For example, if you were injured in a car or truck accident, hit by a car while you were walking or biking, used a product that was defective, or slipped and fell due to someone’s negligence, those would constitute legitimate personal injury claims.
Bear in mind that some injuries don’t warrant the time and expense of seeking damages. There are also some injuries that might seem minor at first, but eventually affect your ability to live your life normally. Although the statute of limitations in Oregon is fairly short for personal injury, you do have some time to file a claim if your injury becomes worse than it originally appeared.
Statute of Limitations
The best time to file a personal injury claim in Oregon is after you have recovered from your injuries, but that doesn’t mean you should wait to speak with a lawyer. You have two years to file before the statute of limitations runs out, but the longer you wait, the more difficult it may be to get compensated.
Obviously, you want to get your claim settled as quickly as possible for personal and financial reasons. But there’s another important reason to get the ball rolling as soon as possible: evidence. When the evidence is fresh, it’s much easier to prove negligence.
Who Should Not File a Claim
If you were at fault for the accident, you will not be able to seek damages. Your insurance company will probably need to pay out compensation to the party that was not at fault, which may cause your rates to go up.
However, some accidents are more complicated and assigning blame gets trickier. In some situations, partial blame for the accident is assigned to both parties. In that case, the person responsible for more than 50% of the blame cannot seek damages. The other party can only seek partial damages.
Steps of a Personal Injury Case
It can feel overwhelming to file a personal injury lawsuit. The good news is that your lawyer will walk you through the process and do whatever they can to get you the compensation you deserve.
It’s a good idea to get a full overview of the process, even if you’ve already been in touch with an attorney. Here are the steps you’ll take from accident to compensation.
1) Speaking with the Authorities/Getting Medical Treatment
If you were severely injured, the most important thing is to get medical treatment right away. If you’re injured enough that you’re unable to get photos of the scene or speak with the authorities before you’re taken to the hospital, don’t worry. Your health takes priority.
Sometimes, though, you might be able to document the scene while you wait for the police to arrive. You should take pictures and try to piece together the sequence of events in your mind so you can talk about the incident with the authorities. A police report can be very important evidence in a personal injury case.
Getting medical treatment right away, even if you don’t think the injury is serious, also serves another purpose. It creates a starting point for your treatment and establishes a “baseline” for your condition that can be used later on in the process.
2) Consulting with an Oregon Personal Injury Attorney
Once your injuries have been treated, your next step should be to find a trustworthy Oregon attorney to help you file your lawsuit and resolve your case. Insurance companies have the goal of reducing the amount of money they pay out, and you will likely walk away with very little, if anything, without the help of a lawyer.
During your initial consultation, the attorney will ask questions about the case and provide recommendations about how to proceed. In some cases, they might suggest moving forward with the suit. If they don’t think you have grounds for a successful case, however, they will tell you.
These cases can be very subjective, as the losses can be economic (property damage, medical expenses, etc.) or non-economic (pain and suffering). Assigning a number to these losses is difficult, but an experienced attorney will be able to give you a realistic idea of how much you might get from a settlement or trial.
3) Filing Paperwork
If the party responsible for the accident has insurance, you might not have to file a personal injury lawsuit at all. Instead, you will send a notice of claim to the insurance company that you intend to seek a settlement. In this initial letter, you won’t need to provide the amount you are seeking; you’re simply letting the company know that you intend to file a claim.
If you do need to file a personal injury lawsuit with the court, remember that you have a limited time to do so. You and your lawyer will need to file the lawsuit within two years, although the case does not need to be resolved within that timeframe.
4) Discovery, Gathering Evidence, and Proving Negligence
The discovery process involves the exchange of evidence and information between the two parties. You may need to attend a deposition (to give a sworn statement) and provide documents or other evidence supporting your claim.
During this process, your lawyer might submit a list of questions to the defendant or ask for documents. It’s important for everyone involved to have as much information as possible in order to fairly present their side of the story.
To receive compensation for your injuries, you and your lawyer generally have to prove negligence. For cases involving car accidents, this is usually straightforward—if someone ran a red light, was too tired to drive, or failed to notice a crosswalk, it is pretty easy to prove negligence. In other situations, such as slip and fall cases, it may be more difficult.
5) Settlement Negotiations, Pretrial Motions, and Hearings
Many personal injury cases never make it into a courtroom. Generally, insurance companies prefer to settle these matters out of court whenever possible. Although these companies have their own lawyers, they can often get better terms through settlement and save the hassle and expense of going to trial.
Most plaintiffs are relieved to hear that many cases don’t actually end up going to trial. Trials are stressful, expensive, time-consuming, and the outcome is not guaranteed. However, the occasional case can’t be resolved through settlement negotiations.
Civil trials like this require that a jury first determine fault before deciding on the amount of damages that they consider to be fair under the circumstances. If your case does go to trial, follow the instructions of the court and your lawyer closely. You don’t want to jeopardize your case for any reason.
7) Collecting Your Compensation
Typically, your lawyer will collect your compensation for you following the settlement or trial. They will deduct their percentage and any fees before distributing the rest to you. Then, you can use the funds to pay off medical bills or for anything else you might need.
8) Appeals and Post-Trial Motions
After the trial is over, the losing party has the option to file an appeal contesting the outcome of the trial. They might petition for a lower compensation amount than the jury determined. Or, they might contest the validity of the case as a whole.
Trials are rare enough in personal injury cases, and post-trial activity is extremely unlikely. But you should know that it is a possibility if you end up going to trial instead of settling through negotiation. During the appeal process, the parties may also enter into settlement negotiations again in an attempt to bring the case to a close.
Frequently Asked Questions
Every accident and every personal injury case is different. With that said, there are several questions that come up over and over again. Remember to ask an experienced personal injury lawyer for specific answers and recommendations about your case.
What are the limits on different types of damages in a personal injury case in Oregon?
There are two major types of damages: economic and non-economic.
Economic damages are usually pretty straightforward—they refer to any property damage, medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of income, etc. There is no hard cap on economic damages in a personal injury case.
Non-economic damages are more difficult to prove and define because it can be hard to assign a dollar amount to them. These damages may include “pain and suffering” in addition to the loss of reputation or reduction in quality of life. The state of Oregon has a cap of $500,000 on non-economic damages. You cannot receive non-economic damages if you were injured while driving under the influence.
Be realistic about the extent of the damages. You should certainly pursue compensation if you were in a serious accident, but if you recovered fairly quickly, don’t expect to retire on the money from your case. Generally, people who get huge payouts have seen their quality of life decline substantially or their injuries affect their ability to work long-term.
Will I be able to see my own doctor?
Immediately after an accident, most people are taken to the emergency room right away. But for any follow-up appointments, you should be able to see your own doctor. Part of the compensation is for any medical bills you may incur.
However, the insurance company or defendant might also insist on an Independent Medical Exam (IME) with a doctor they hire. This is supposed to ensure a more neutral opinion of your injuries, in the hopes that it will help the defense win their case.
When attending an IME, be polite and truthful, but don’t volunteer any additional information about your health or the case. Only answer the questions you’re asked, and don’t be tempted to exaggerate the extent of your injuries. Doctors can almost always tell if you’re overselling your injuries and it’s not worth hurting your case.
Remember that the doctor conducting the IME is not on your side. They have been hired by the defendant and although they are expected to create a truthful report of their findings, it’s important to be aware of potential bias. You might be able to bring someone to the appointment with you, who can act as a witness if any issues arise or you and the doctor disagree on what occurred during the exam.
How much does it cost to hire a personal injury attorney?
Personal injury firms generally work on a contingency basis. This means that they’ll only get paid their fee if your settlement or trial is successful. Once the case is resolved, they will take a percentage of the total (which is agreed on in advance). You will also be responsible for any fees and expenses associated with the case.
Many people are hesitant to hire a lawyer in personal injury cases. They don’t like the idea of getting less than the full settlement amount. But when you consider that most plaintiffs end up getting more money overall by working with a lawyer, it starts to make more sense.
Lawyers are experts at dealing with insurance companies and negotiating favorable terms. They will also walk you through the process and be an advocate for you. That, in addition to getting a better payout, means that the benefits almost always outweigh the drawbacks.
Make sure to go over all the potential costs with your lawyer before moving forward. You don’t want any misunderstandings and end up with less than you were expecting. Any reputable lawyer will be highly transparent about their fee structure and walk you through it so there are no surprises.
What other costs might come up?
If you file a lawsuit with the court, you will need to pay a filing fee. Your attorney might also hire people, such as an accident reconstruction expert, to strengthen your case. These costs will come out of the settlement you are awarded, but must also be paid if you are unsuccessful in recovering damages. That’s why it’s so important to only pursue a claim or suit if you are confident that you are entitled to compensation.
How much can I expect to get in compensation?
Before you start seeking compensation after an accident, you have to understand that each case is truly unique. The circumstances will be totally different in each situation and it’s hard to even give average compensation ranges. Some settlements might be relatively small (perhaps enough to cover your medical bills and a bit extra), while others might stretch to hundreds of thousands or more.
Obviously, the extent of your injuries matters. Are you able to work after the accident? Will your injuries cause you chronic pain? How long did the accident affect your quality of life?
The fault and circumstances surrounding the accident also matters. Someone who is driving drunk or recklessly will likely result in a larger settlement than someone who was simply not paying attention to the road as they should.
You probably have no frame of reference for what is fair in these situations, but your lawyer will. Be sure to keep track of all your medical expenses from the beginning and consider any other factors that could impact the amount you should ask for.
Should I settle to avoid going to court?
It depends on the situation! Settlements are much faster and far less stressful than going to court. You might end up with less compensation in the end, but you also won’t have to worry about all of the possible outcomes in court.
Your lawyer will help you in deciding how to proceed. This is why it’s so important to choose a firm with experienced attorneys—you want advice from someone who has seen the outcomes of many different cases. They will also know how much to ask for, what’s realistic, and how best to negotiate with the insurance company.
Can I be compensated for injuries sustained on a dangerous road?
In some cases, yes. If the city, county, or state has failed to build and maintain safe roads, they may be responsible for an accident causing serious injury. Plaintiffs need to bear in mind that they only have 180 days to file suit in cases involving the government, rather than two years.
Should I talk to the insurance adjuster?
It’s important to remember that the insurance company’s goal is to pay as little as possible. They might act friendly in order to get you to volunteer information that could hurt your case. They are not on your side!
Generally, you are not required to speak with the defendant’s insurance company in a personal injury case. If you can avoid talking to them, you should. Your attorney will let you know what is required and what you should avoid.
How can I help my case?
Take notes throughout the process. As soon as you can after the accident, write down everything you remember. It’s very easy to forget important details, especially when you’ve been through a traumatic experience. Don’t count on your memory!
You should also take notes about how you’re feeling, especially after every doctor’s appointment. The more information you can have in writing, the better.
The other most important tip is to be honest. Tell your lawyer about the incident in as much detail as possible. Don’t stretch the truth with any doctors you see. You don’t want to have your credibility questioned as it might affect your case and ultimately, your settlement.
Choosing an Experienced Oregon Personal Injury Attorney
Many people who have been injured in an accident wonder if they really need a lawyer, especially if they hope to settle the issue out of court. While you can navigate the process alone, it’s generally not recommended. In addition to helping you get the most out of your personal injury case, a lawyer will be your advocate and provide support throughout the process.
While it might be tempting to call the first lawyer you can find, it’s important to choose a firm with experience, a long track record of success, and compassion for clients. Your Oregon injury attorney will be along for the ride every step of the way, so it’s important to work with someone who makes you feel comfortable throughout the process.
If you’ve been injured, you shouldn’t be responsible for the costs of an accident. DuBois Law Group specializes in personal injury and wrongful death cases, including car, bicycle, truck, and pedestrian accidents. Our attorneys have experience in helping victims of accidents put their lives back together by getting the compensation they deserve. For a free case review, call (503) 213-9384 today.