Joseph M. Zoffer, Esquire


Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Personal Injury?

A Personal Injury is any physical or mental injury to a person as a result of someone's negligence or harmful act. Sometimes personal injury may be referred to as bodily injury. Personal injuries can occur in a wide variety of ways. The following are some of the most common accidents resulting in personal injury:

  • Auto accidents
  • Dangerous or Defective Product Injuries (Product Liability)
  • Aviation Disasters
  • Professional Malpractice
  • Workers Compensation
  • Wrongful Death
  • Toxic Exposure
  • Home Accidents
  • Dog Bites

What financial compensation can I obtain in a personal injury claim?

Personal Injury Victims are entitled to recover money damages for all losses and expenses they incur as a result of an accident. The damages may include the following.

  • Medical bills,
  • Lost Wages, including overtime,
  • Pain & Suffering,
  • Physical Disability,
  • Disfigurement,
  • Permanent Scars
  • Emotional Trauma,
  • Mental Anguish,
  • Loss of Enjoyment,
  • Loss of Love & Affection,
  • Embarrassment,
  • Mental Disability,
  • Property Damage,
  • All out of pocket expenses (transportation charges, house cleaning, grass cutting, and others).

How do I know if I have a Personal Injury claim?

To have a personal injury case, you must be able to show that you have been injured. This may be a physical injury or it may be an emotional injury. In addition, you must be able to show that someone else (the defendant) is at fault for your injury under a negligence, strict liability or intentional misconduct theory. In some cases, it may be necessary for you to show that the other party is more at fault for the injury than you are.

What if the accident is partly my fault can I still have a claim?

Even if an accident of injury was partially your fault you still may have a Claim based on the concept of Comparative Negligence or Contributory Negligence.

The term "contributory negligence" is used to describe the actions of an injured person that may have also caused that person's own injuries. For example, a person who ignores a "Caution - Wet Floor" sign and slips and falls in the supermarket may be found to have been careless and at fault for any injuries suffered. "Contributory negligence" can prevent a person from collecting any monies to compensate for injuries suffered, if that person's carelessness is 51% more than that of the defendant or defendants in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania has done away with the concept of contributory negligence altogether and instead use the concept of "comparative negligence The term "comparative negligence: means that the fault of all parties is compared and the amount of the recovery for damages sustained by the injured victim is reduced by the percentage of his or her own fault. In this way, each person is held accountable for the amount of damages that they caused".

If you are injured by the negligent action of another, but you contributed to the accident by your failure to exercise reasonably prudent care, you are guilty of contributory negligence. You may also be guilty of a form of contributory negligence if you voluntarily expose yourself to danger - by riding a roller coaster without wearing a seat belt, or working with a neighbor's power saw or other dangerous tool if you're inexperienced or fail to use a safety guard. This is called assumption of risk.

How do I know if I may need and attorney?

If you have been seriously injured or are unsure as to the outcome of your injury, then an experienced personal injury attorney should always be consulted as soon after your injury as possible, before you give any statements or sign any papers of any kind.

In a serious injury case, you are better off hiring an attorney as soon as possible. Most firms offer a free consultation, with no obligation; therefore, you have nothing to lose by consulting an attorney before you accept the insurance company offer.

There is a statute of limitations that requires you to file suit within a specific period of time, depending upon the circumstances of your case, or else you will be prohibited from obtaining any compensation for your injuries. An attorney will be able to help you keep within the statute of limitations.

What is a Contingency Fee?

A contingency fee is a fee that is used by lawyers in most personal injury cases. It is contingent when the fee is conditioned upon your attorney's successful resolution of your case. A contingent fee is paid as a percentage of your monetary recovery. A contingent fee is what is meant when you hear "there is no fee unless there is recovery". The client is generally responsible for the out-of-pocket costs of litigation.

If I have a personal injury claim do I have to go to court?

Most personal injury cases are settled out of court between opposing lawyers and the insurance company. If a case does go to trial you most likely will have to appear so that your testimony can be heard.

How long do I have to make a claim for Personal Injuries?

Every state has certain time limits, called "statutes of limitations," that govern the period during which you must file a personal injury lawsuit. In some states, for example, you may have as little as one year to file a lawsuit from an automobile accident. If you miss the statutory deadline for filing a case, your case is thrown out of court.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statutes of limitations are time frames in which you have to file a lawsuit. When the statute of limitations expires on your case, you simply do not have a case anymore. Statutes of limitation differ not only from state to state, but also in regard to the kinds of lawsuits involved. In some states the statute of limitations for medical malpractice, suits against governmental agencies, and wrongful death actions is shorter than that for other types of personal injury cases. In general, however, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is from one to three years, and the time begins from the time of the accident. There are some exceptions and an experienced lawyer can help you with them.

How long will it take to settle my claim?

The time it takes to settle a personal injury case depends on the circumstances surrounding the case. The more complex the case the longer it may take to settle. Many cases can take anywhere from 3 to 18 months to settle depending on its complexity.

What is negligence?

It's the commission of a civil wrong, a tort that accidentally causes injury to somebody by reason of failure to perform an expected duty with the care that a reasonably prudent person would use with regard to the safety of another in a particular circumstance.

Negligence is any conduct that falls below the standards of behavior established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm. A person has acted negligently if he or she has departed from the conduct expected of a reasonably prudent person acting under similar circumstances. Negligence is also the name of a cause of action in the law of torts. To establish negligence, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty by failing to conform to the required standard of conduct, the defendant's negligent conduct was the cause of the harm to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff was, in fact, harmed or damaged.

How do I Prove Negligence?

The burden of proof in a tort case, as in most civil law cases, is lower than the proof required in criminal law cases. In a criminal case, the state must prove a person's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To win a personal injury lawsuit based on tort law, the plaintiff need only prove that a majority of the evidence shows that an injury was caused by the defendant's tortious actions. This standard of proof is called "the preponderance of the evidence." The different burdens of proof mean that a company might be acquitted of criminal charges stemming from its actions but be found liable in a civil lawsuit stemming from the same actions.

What are Negligence Defenses?

In the case of negligence, damages awarded for a negligence claim may be reduced if some type of contributory or comparative negligence existed. In some cases if an assumption of risk was involved the case may be lost or the award reduced depending on the circumstances. You should consult an attorney for more information regarding negligence defenses.

What is Contributory Negligence?

The term "contributory negligence" is used to describe the actions of an injured person that may have also caused that person's own injuries. For example, a person who ignores a "Wet Floor" sign and slips and falls in the supermarket may be found to have been careless and at fault for any injuries suffered in Pennsylvania. "Contributory negligence" can prevent a person from collecting any monies to compensate for injuries suffered if that person's carelessness was more than 50%.

Some states, like Pennsylvania, have done away with the concept of contributory negligence altogether and instead use the concept of "comparative negligence." Comparative negligence looks to the degree of fault of each party in determining whether an award is justified in the case and what amount the award will be.

What is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence works on a percentage basis to assign a degree of fault for the injuries suffered. If a plaintiff is found to be fifty-one percent at fault, in PA he or she will not receive any damages for injuries suffered.

Additionally, for plaintiffs that are found to be less than fifty-percent at fault, the award is reduced in proportion to the plaintiff's percentage of fault. For example, in a case where a person slips and falls on a wet supermarket floor and is awarded $100,000, the supermarket is found to be eighty-percent responsible for the accident because of dangerous floor conditions. The injured plaintiff is found twenty percent responsible for not exercising caution, so the award is reduced to $80,000.

What is Assumption of Risk?

If you have knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risk inherent in a particular action that caused an accident, you cannot sue the other person for negligence. If you went to a friends house and they told you not to go out the backdoor because the deck was being repaired and after being told you still went out the backdoor, you assume the risk. If you become injured, in most jurisdictions, under the doctrine of the assumption of risk, because you were aware of the danger and still chose to go out the backdoor, you would most likely not be able to collect damages.

Another example of assumption of risk is participation in a sport in which certain risks are inherent to the game. For instance, if you are playing football and you get tackled and break an arm, you may not sue the person who tackled you. On the other hand, if you are playing tennis and a fight breaks out and you are hit in the head with a racket, you may be able to sue the person who hit you, since the assumption of risk does not cover any injury that was intentionally inflicted and not an inherent part of the game.

What does duty mean in a negligence lawsuit?

When talking about negligence, duty is an obligation to protect and respect the safety of others around us. That means doing something that a reasonably prudent person would do under the circumstances. We all have a duty to drive our automobiles safely and respect the other drivers and pedestrians around us. It is like when you come to a stop sign, you have a duty to make a complete stop before proceeding.

What is considered a Reasonable Person?

A person has acted negligently if he or she has departed from the conduct expected of a reasonably prudent person acting under similar circumstances. The hypothetical reasonable person provides an objective standard by which the conduct of others is judged. In law, the reasonable person is not an average person or a typical person but a composite of the community's judgment as to how the typical community member should behave in situations that might pose a threat of harm to the public. Even though the majority of people in the community may behave in a certain way that does not establish the standard of conduct of the reasonable person. For example, a majority of people in a community may jaywalk, but jaywalking might still fall below the community's standards of safe conduct.

What is Liability?

The term liability generally means that an individual, company or some other entity may be obligated to pay damages or compensation to another.

The negligent driver, manufacturer or seller of a product may be responsible or liable to pay for damages including pain and suffering and financial losses if they are caused by their carelessness.

What is strict or absolute liability?

Strict or absolute liability means that the defendant is responsible for injuring another person regardless of negligence or intent. It means that the manufacturer of a product is liable for selling any defective product that is considered "unreasonably dangerous" and results in injury either to the buyer or someone else who uses it. In strict product liability, it is unnecessary to prove that the manufacturer was negligent; all you have to do is show that the product was defective, that it was allowed to be sold, and that the injuries were caused by the defect in the product. Some instances in which the law might apply strict liability are with regard to product liability, abnormally dangerous or ultra-hazardous activities and animal owner's liability. For example, a plaintiff may be entitled to compensation after a defective product injures him or her regardless of whether the manufacturer was actually negligent. In other words, the plaintiff only has to prove that a product is defective or unreasonably dangerous and that the defect caused the injury. It is not necessary to show that the manufacturer was careless or negligent, which is much more difficult to prove.

What is premises liability?

The term "premises liability" generally refers to accidents that occur due to the negligent maintenance, or unsafe or dangerous conditions upon property owned by someone other than the accident victim. Many states have laws that generally require landowners to maintain their property in a manner that does not cause injury to those that, for various reasons, visit the property. Often, these laws pertain to both business owners and homeowners.

In many states, property owners and business establishments have been found to have a duty to provide a safe environment for individuals on their premises. If you are injured because a property owner or a business establishment fails to provide a safe environment, you may have a right to bring a claim for various damages incurred due to your injury. In many states, these damages include pain and suffering, medical expenses and lost wages.

Premises Liability cases involve injuries sustained on the property or premises of a negligent third party. These types of cases often involve slip and fall accidents, which usually occur when a defective condition, foreign substance or object causes a fall. Crucial to settlement recovery is being able to show how long the defect or substance was there, how visible it was, and how much notice the owner had of the dangerous condition before the accident.

What is Intentional Misconduct?

Intentional misconduct is a deliberate action resulting in an injury to another person or damage to another person's property. For example, if a manufacturer deliberately sells products it knows to be defective, it is causing harm on purpose. A plaintiff alleging intentional misconduct need not compare the defendant's actions to those of a reasonable person; he or she only must show that the defendant intended his or her actions. In a civil lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleges intentional misconduct, the plaintiff can recover punitive damages in addition to awards for injuries, pain, and suffering. Punitive damages, designed to punish people or organizations for unlawful acts, are often very large sums of money. Until recently, there were few limits on the amount of money a jury could award as punitive damages. However, Congress and state legislatures recently have passed laws putting caps on punitive damage awards in certain types of cases.

What if I've been injured in an automobile accident?

When a motor vehicle is in an accident, it is important that certain action is taken. The name and address of the operator of each vehicle should be obtained. Additionally, the name and address of the owner of each vehicle involved should be obtained and license plate number of all vehicles should be recorded. Lastly, the name of the automobile insurance company for each vehicle should be obtained. If possible, obtain the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses to the accident.

If there has been any type of injury, the police should be called to investigate the accident. The police officer will write a report which includes the details of the accident and the nature and extent of any damages and injuries. Insurance companies will require that a report of the accident be obtained before providing any benefits.

It is most important to immediately contact your own motor vehicle insurance company to report to them any property damage or personal injury. If you or a family member is injured in a motor vehicle accident, prompt medical attention should be obtained.

If you are seriously injured as a result of someone else's negligence, you should not talk to any representative of the negligent driver or owner's insurance company until you have sought the advice of your own attorney.

What should I do if I have been injured in a slip & fall accident?

Most businesses and homeowners carry liability insurance to protect them in the event that someone is injured while on their property. This would include slip and fall type cases which are generally known as premise liability cases.

The owner or possessor of a residence, land, or place of business has the duty to exercise reasonable care for the protection of those individuals who are invited to come upon the premises. This would include those who, as members of the public, come upon the land or enter a store or place of business to shop or do business. In such cases, the owner, company, or person occupying the premises must inspect the premises to discover any dangerous conditions and warn the invitee of dangers upon the premises.

Additionally, the property owner or possessor has a duty to exercise ordinary care in maintaining his or her premises in a reasonably safe condition in order to prevent injury to persons on the property. Furthermore, owners or possessors of land or buildings must take reasonable measures after an accumulation of snow and ice to diminish the hazard of injuries to others.

Landowners may also be responsible for injuries occurring as a result of poorly maintained or poorly lit common areas of a building such as stairways, sidewalks, and halls. Likewise, homeowners may be liable for injuries which occur in their homes or yards if such injury results from a condition which presents an unreasonable risk of harm to those who have permission to be upon the premises.

Those injured by a negligent owner or possessor of a premise may recover damages for their injuries, including, loss of income, medical expenses, pain and suffering, etc.

If you are injured upon someone else's property, you should consult an experienced personal injury attorney who will be able to analyze your case and the principles of law concerning premises liability. You should not give an interview to insurance adjusters of investigators hired by insurance companies until you have consulted with an attorney.

Joseph M. Zoffer

1190 Lakemont Drive
Pittsburgh, PA