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What Is the Process for Settlement Checks in Premises Liability Cases?
When you’re out in public, you have the right to assume you’re reasonably safe. Whether you’re in a shopping mall, at an Airbnb, or just parking in a parking garage, you usually have the expectation that no harm will come to you.
Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Maybe you slipped and fell in a freshly mopped bathroom. Maybe an elevator malfunctioned on the way to your third-floor apartment. An accident could be as simple as being chased or attacked by an animal on public property.
If you’ve been injured in a space that’s owned by someone else, you may be eligible to seek compensation via a premises liability case. In this guide, we’re going to delve into what, exactly, these cases are and how you can take action after injury.
What Does Premises Liability Mean?
Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re shopping at the local mall with your children. It’s the holiday season, so you visit one of those stores that sells lotions, bath soaps and candles. You didn’t notice it, but someone spilled lotion on the floor… and you slip. You’re transported to the hospital where it’s determined you’ve broken your hip. As a result, you’re out of work, and now you’ve got medical bills to pay.
This is a very specific example of a premises liability case, but it illustrates what premises liability means. Put simply, a premises liability case generally involves a person who has been injured on another person or entity’s property.
You may be entitled to a settlement following an injury of this nature. However, before filing suit there are certain qualifiers that must be met. Let’s take a look at what those are.
Is My Case a Premises Liability Case?
If you’ve been injured in a public setting, you may be able to sue the property owner. There are several conditions to look for when determining whether you are eligible to file a premises liability suit.
First, you need to determine the defendant, and whether he or she was responsible for your expectation of safety. To do this, you must learn who owns or operates the property upon which the injury occurred.
Secondly, you’ll need to be able to prove that the defendant was negligent. That soap spill certainly could have been cleaned up, right? There is a standard of care that should be adhered to when allowing others onto your property.
Third, you must be able to prove you were harmed. It’s important that you keep records of all your medical records, bills and other documentation, as these may prove useful to you in court.
Finally, you must be able to prove in court that the negligence of the property owner was directly responsible for the harm that came to you. Your attorney can help you with this.
Receiving Your Settlement Check: The Legal Process
You and your legal team will work closely together throughout the process of suing a property owner. This guide is not intended to lead you through that process. Instead, we aim to teach you what happens once you and your legal team win your case.
During a premises liability case, you can expect to spend a considerable amount of time navigating through the court system. Be sure to hire an attorney who is experienced in the type of claim; he or she will work to expedite your case as much as possible. Unfortunately, the waiting game doesn’t end once the case is won.
First, a Document of Settlement will be issued. You and the property owner (or other at-fault party) will have up to 60 days to fill out applicable paperwork. The length of time will depend upon what the judge has ordered.
One of the forms you’ll have to complete is a release. This document is worded to confirm that you will not pursue any further damages from the defendant. It’s important to read this document, as in most cases it only specifies that you won’t sue again for the same injury. If fourth injuries arise later, you may be able to seek compensation.
You and your attorney will closely examine the document and ensure that everything is acceptable. You’ll then sign it in front of a notary and your attorney will both send a copy to the defense attorney and to the responsible insurance company.
Finally, the insurance company, usually that of the defendant, will release a check. This check is typically sent to your attorney; he or she will be responsible for paying certain expenses from those funds.
What Happens to My Premises Liability Check Once It’s Issued?
An insurance company will usually write a check to both you and your attorney. However, your lawyer will be largely responsible for determining where the money goes.
First, your check will be deposited into escrow. The purpose of an escrow account is simple: ensuring that the insurance company can afford the payment. Once the check clears escrow, your attorney will begin to assist you with your bills.
If you have liens against you, a portion of your settlement check will be used to clear them. A lien is an outstanding debt you owe for cases lost or other charges against you. For instance, you may still owe medical bills, child support or even legal fees to another attorney who worked on your case previously.
Once those bills are paid, your attorney can release funds to you. The amount you receive will be the amount of the check minus liens and minus your attorney’s fees. It’s important that you and your attorney reach a (signed) agreement regarding payment prior to filing your case.
Most premises liability case attorneys will be paid on a contingency basis. What that means is that if you win your case, your legal team will collect the money they’re owed. If you don’t win, your legal team will not collect. Read your agreement with your attorney carefully before you hire.
Finally, once all other bills are taken care of, you’ll be paid. The remainder of your settlement money is yours to spend as you wish.
If you’ve filed - or are considering filing - a premises liability lawsuit, you likely have questions. We’ve put together a list of the most frequently asked questions by our clients who have filed similar suits.
How long do I have to file my premises liability lawsuit?
If you’ve been injured on someone else’s property, the first action you should take is to seek medical attention. Keep records of all documentations, including your bills, as they may be used as evidence should a lawsuit be filed.
Once you’ve been checked out by a doctor, contact an attorney as soon as possible. The statute of limitations may vary depending upon where you live, so it’s important that you begin as early as possible. Your lawyer can tell you how long you have to file in your state.
How long must I wait after my injury to receive my premises liability settlement check?
Your case may be straightforward or it may be quite complicated. You may have medical issues to deal with, insurance companies may not be cooperative, or you may not even be able to contact the responsible party!
For this reason, there’s no guarantee as to how long it will take to receive your settlement check, should you win. It may be just a few short months following your injury or you may have to wait over a year. Remain in close contact with your legal team to stay abreast of updates to your case.
Can I sue for damages if I was trespassing?
In short, no. We understand: it happens. Your teenagers decide to visit an abandoned property on Halloween. Maybe your car is broken down on someone else’s property. Unfortunately, you typically must have been invited to visit the premises in order to sue for damages.
The term “invited” doesn’t necessarily mean that the property owner issued you a formal invitation. Public spaces like the post office, the grocery store or even the freeway downtown are spaces you’re “invited” to.
If you were injured on property that you were trespassing, please contact an attorney. In rare cases you may still be eligible to seek damages.
How much will I win in my premises liability lawsuit?
Your attorney can not guarantee the outcome of your case. Furthermore, no two premises liability cases are exactly alike. You may even be involved in the same accident as your neighbor and be awarded two very different settlements.
Speak with your legal team about the options available to you. On a contingency basis, it’s in your attorney’s best interest to fight for every dollar possible, so you can rest assured that your lawyer will be working hard on your behalf.
If you’ve been injured and wish to file a premises liability suit, contact Morgan & Morgan. Call us at 888-340-1780 or use our contact form to schedule a free consultation. Our legal team is ready and able to assist you with your case, no matter where you are in the United States.