This is the person who has been hurt because of someone’s wrongdoing. The plaintiff asks to be paid “damages” as compensation for these injuries. The plaintiff is sometimes referred to as a “party.”
This is the person (or business) whose improper behavior caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The defendant is asked to pay “damages,” even though the actual payment is almost always made by an insurance company. Like the plaintiff, the defendant is sometimes referred to as a “party.”
This is the insurance company’s representative responsible for your claim or lawsuit.
After a motor vehicle collision, an appraiser is often sent by an insurance company to look at the property damage and calculate what it will probably cost to repair your vehicle, and tell the “adjuster” what your car is “worth” on the open market.
A “claim” is made when the plaintiff (or his or her lawyer) contacts the defendant (or the defendant’s insurance company) to report an injury. Most claims are resolved, or “settled,” once the plaintiff and the defendant’s insurance company have a good idea of how badly the plaintiff has been injured and can agree on what “damages” should be paid for fair compensation. If a claim cannot be settled, a law suit is usually filed.
“Damages” are described in Connecticut law as “economic” and “non-economic.” Economic damages include all the bills for treatment of the plaintiff’s injuries-including ambulance, hospital, doctor, x-ray, therapy and prescription costs-and any lost wages and out-of-pocket costs that are caused by the defendant’s wrongdoing. Non-economic damages include the physical injuries, pain, discomfort, emotional distress, aggravation, scarring and the inability to fully enjoy life’s pleasures.
Economic and non-economic damages are paid for what has happened and what is probably going to happen in the future, especially if the injuries or losses are permanent and likely to last a lifetime.
No matter what the “damages” that might be justified, Connecticut rules only allow a lawsuit to state they are “more than $15,000.”
In our society, we cannot just do as we please without paying any mind to those around us. Instead, each of us is expected to act as a “reasonable person” in our dealings with others. When someone does not act as a reasonable person and, without really meaning to, hurts another, the person who has acted improperly is said to have been “negligent.”
The behavior expected of a reasonable person can be set out in laws-like traffic laws about speed limits or stopping at a red light, for example. But reasonable conduct can also be a matter of commonly accepted responsibilities-like keeping your property safe by fixing a broken step or railing. Though wrongdoing can be intentional, most injuries are caused by those who have been negligent. And injuries that result from the negligence of others result in “claims” and a request for fair, just and reasonable compensation for all “damages.”
People who have been hurt by the negligence of another can overlook their own need to act reasonably. A reasonable person who is hurt is expected to try to get better as quickly and completely as possible. This usually means going to a doctor and following the doctor’s advice and instructions. If you’ve been hurt by someone else’s negligence, don’t think that the defendant’s insurance company will be pleased if you decide to “tough it out” and don’t see a doctor for weeks or months. Unless there are very strong reasons for not going to a doctor, reasonable people who have been hurt get examined by a doctor and get treated. Even the insurance companies want an injured person to act reasonably.
This is a formal “complaint” by a plaintiff against a defendant. The complaint is in writing, and Connecticut law requires a marshal to “serve” (deliver) a copy to the defendant with a “summons”-a document that tells the defendant when an “answer” (response) must be made. A complaint will describe the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s injuries, and it will ask that damages be paid by the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for those injuries. Connecticut court rules only allow a lawsuit to claim that the damages to be paid are “more than $15,000.”
These are laws from the legislature that are set out in writing. Most of the “statutes” we deal with have been passed by Connecticut’s state representatives and senators and signed by the governor. Because most of these laws come from our state government, they are different from the laws of other states. Some of the “statutes,” however, are passed by Congress and signed by the President.
Statute of Limitations
You can hold a grudge forever, but you only have a certain amount of time to try to settle your claim or else file a lawsuit. In other words, there are Connecticut statutes (laws) that “limit” the time for the lawsuit to be started.
Though there are some exceptions, in most negligence cases that do not involve medical negligence (malpractice) or death, the deadline for starting a lawsuit is two years from the date of injury. Some states extend this time-if a child has been hurt, for example. Connecticut does not allow this.
You should not wait until the deadline is about to go by before contacting a lawyer, or you may find it’s too late to be compensated for your injuries.
Unlike so many of the legal terms lawyers use, this one actually describes exactly what it is: after a lawsuit is filed, each side gets to “discover” useful information about the other. For example, the defendant’s lawyer will want a lot of details about the plaintiff’s injuries. And the plaintiff’s attorney will want details about insurance coverage. Discovery is usually done with three tools:
a. Interrogatories. These are written questions (that sometimes seem like you’re being interrogated). Answers are prepared by the attorney with your help, and are based on all the information that has been gathered. You must swear that the answers are true to the best of your knowledge and belief. Answers must be supplemented as new information comes in.
b. Production Requests: These are usually requests that relevant documents be produced for inspection and copying-documents like medical records and bills, photographs and insurance policies. When swearing that the answers to Interrogatories are true, you are also swearing that you are producing all of the proper documents. And new documents, such as records and bills of additional medical care, must be provided, too.
c. Depositions: A “deposition” is a face-to-face, question-and-answer meeting with the other attorney. The person being questioned (“deposed”) is under oath, sworn to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” A licensed court stenographer takes down everything that is said and then prints it out in a script (it reads like a play).
Though the process can seem informal, and at its best is like a good conversation, everything said counts as if it were being said in court. For this reason, your attorney sits next to you at the deposition and, most important, your attorney will meet with you to prepare well in advance. In addition to the plaintiff and defendant, witnesses and doctors are also commonly deposed.
Medical malpractice is “negligence” by a hospital, clinic, doctor, nurse, chiropractor, etc.-just about any health professional. Just like any negligence case, medical malpractice requires proof that someone did something that should not have been done (or proof that someone didn’t do something that should have been done) and that the wrongdoing caused harm. But malpractice claims and lawsuits are different in some important ways:
First, there are usually no laws that tell a doctor how to care for a patient “reasonably.” And though people can usually agree on how a “reasonable person” should behave, most of us don’t know enough about medicine to know what treatment a “reasonable doctor” (or any health professional) should give a patient. This means that we have to depend on other doctors to tell us what should be expected of a “reasonable doctor.” Having to depend on doctors as witnesses means paying doctors for time spent studying medical records, meeting with attorneys, and testifying. This is a very expensive undertaking.
Second, to protect the doctors in our state from “frivolous” claims of negligence, Connecticut law does not even allow a lawsuit to be filed against a health professional unless the plaintiff’s attorney gets-in advance-a written opinion from a highly qualified health professional stating it is likely there was malpractice. This is not a bad requirement: it would be foolish to file a lawsuit, especially one that is bound to be hard-fought and costly, without having firm support from medical witnesses in advance. But it does mean that investigating and pursuing a malpractice claim is expensive from the start.
The expense that comes with any medical malpractice lawsuit means that the harm caused by the health professional’s wrongdoing must be substantial-the damages must significantly outweigh the expense of pursuing the lawsuit.
After a lawsuit is underway and well before trial, there is always at least one meeting-a “pre-trial conference”-between the attorneys and a judge. Courts in some parts of the state may set a pre-trial conference early-on to set a schedule for “discovery.” Other courts find that attorneys can usually set their own discovery schedules without an early meeting. But every court will set a pre-trial conference as the time to start the trial grows closer.
The pre-trial conference gives a judge a chance to press both sides to settle their differences and avoid the time and expense it always takes to go through trial. Some courts want the plaintiff and defendant to be at the pre-trial conference, some judges even meet with the parties to get a better understanding of what help is needed to arrange a settlement. Your lawyer will be able to tell you how the pre-trial conference will be conducted in your case.
Trial is time-consuming and can be expensive. Arbitration is a way people can resolve a dispute by a process that is similar to, but more streamlined than a trial.
Typically, arbitration involves a hearing in front of an “arbitrator,” or decider, who will learn about the lawsuit in depth and make a decision in place of a jury. The arbitrator is always someone with legal experience who is impartial and respected by the attorneys. By reading statements from each attorney, reviewing documents and deposition transcripts in advance, and then hearing some live testimony, an experienced arbitrator can avoid many of the formalities of trial and save everyone a lot of time and expense.
There are many variations on how arbitrations are done. If your attorney thinks that arbitration can be helpful in your case, you will learn about how your arbitration will be run.
Trial is time-consuming and can be expensive. Like arbitration, mediation is a way people can resolve a dispute without a trial. But in mediation, a lawsuit can only be resolved when the plaintiff and defendant agree-there is no outside decider.
With mediation, the attorneys choose a “mediator”: someone who has both legal experience and exceptional skill in getting people to come to an agreement. The mediator is often a judge, or a retired judge or attorney, who knows how to listen carefully and help each side better understand the strengths and the weaknesses of its case.
Mediators read statements from each attorney, review documents, and often spend time talking with the plaintiff and defendant. And because mediation is usually used to resolve more difficult, complicated lawsuits, the attorneys and the mediator must be thoroughly prepared in advance to maximize the chance of success.