Personal injury law covers some obvious territory, such as auto accidents and slip and fall, and also includes less obvious areas such as property nuisance and defamation. Although the basics of personal injury law are the same across the country, seemingly minor differences in your state can make a big difference in your case.
For instance, in Montana you can be partly to blame for your injuries and still have a case, but you must be less than 50% at fault or you cannot receive compensation. The amount of punitive damages will be limited by your opponent’s net worth.
In most personal injury lawsuits you must establish negligence in order to prove fault. Negligence is the failure to show a reasonable degree of care. You do not have to prove intentional wrongdoing. The state of Montana follows the doctrine of modified comparative negligence. That means you can be 49% at fault or less and still be entitled to compensation. The elements of negligence are:
- The defendant owed you a duty
- The defendant failed to live up to this duty
- That failure caused your injuries
- You suffered damages
If you are injured by a defective product you will not need to prove negligence. You will need to prove strict liability which means the product was defective or unreasonably dangerous, you used it properly, and the defect caused your injury. This can happen without any negligence on the behalf of the manufacturer or seller.
Product liability is not always obvious. For instance, an auto accident can be caused by a defective vehicle, or your injuries in the auto accident may have been caused by a defective seatbelt. This is just one of many reasons why you need an experienced personal injury attorney who will know how to properly investigate your case.
Collecting from multiple responsible parties
In many lawsuits there will be more than one responsible party. For example, if you child is injured in a school bus accident, the bus driver and the school district may both be defendants. When there is more than one responsible party in Montana a combination of joint and several liability can apply. Each defendant who is more than 50% at fault will be held responsible for the entire amount of damages. You can collect the entire amount from one party. It is up to the party who paid you to try and recover part of their expenses from the other party or parties. However, defendants who are less than 50% to blame can only be held responsible for their share.
This can be very valuable to the plaintiff. Going back to the school bus example, if your child sustained a severe injury, such as a brain injury, the long-term medical expenses could be enormous. If you had to rely on the school bus driver to pay, there is a good chance he could not come up with his portion and you could wind up having to pay for your child’s care out of your pocket or your child would simply have to go without. There is a much greater likelihood that the school district will actually be able to pay the entire amount.
Economic damages are things like medical bills and property damage – damages which have or will cost you money. Non-economic damages are more difficult to determine and include losses and harm such as:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of quality of life
- Loss of companionship
In medical malpractice cases, in Montana, non-economic damages can be no more than $250,000.
Punitive damages serve the purpose of punishing the defendant, rather than compensating you for your losses. Punitive damages are more difficult to obtain than compensatory damages and typically involve fraud or malice. Discrimination and cruelty to animals are two examples of cases which could result in punitive damages. In Montana, punitive damages are determined in a separate hearing after the compensatory damages have been determined. There is a cap of $10,000,000 on punitive damages and they cannot be more than three percent of the defendant’s net worth.
Statute of limitations
The statute of limitations is your time limit for filing your lawsuit. This is not flexible. You must file before the deadline or you will have no right to compensation, no matter how good your case. In Montana, you have three years to file your lawsuit for most types of cases, including wrongful death. In certain types of cases you will have less time, so be sure to talk to a personal injury attorney with experience in Montana as soon as you think you may have a case.
Please contact one of our Montana personal injury lawyers for a free claim evaluation if you have been injured or lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing.