New Hampshire's personal injury laws sanction individuals who negligently or intentionally harm others but whose actions do not constitute a criminal offense. A personal injury civil suit is between private parties, in contrast to a criminal case where the government punishes a citizen for committing a wrong. Personal injury cases result in damages, not jail time.
It is also easier to prove a personal injury suit as the courts only require a preponderance of evidence instead of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Preponderance implies that the claimant’s version of events is likelier than not and does not require the moral certainty needed for penal cases. The reduced level of proof required also improves the chances of obtaining a settlement in a New Hampshire personal injury lawsuit.
To be discussed in this article are key aspects of personal injury laws in New Hampshire, including how to uphold a duty of care in properties, how to hold erring professionals accountable in medical malpractice lawsuits, how to determine and penalize fault in motor vehicle accidents, and how to protect the well-being of The Granite State’s workers. Also shared are legal resources in New Hampshire for anyone considering filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Medical Malpractice Laws in New Hampshire
Medical malpractice cases in New Hampshire cover instances where medical professionals cause harm to others, usually patients or individuals under their care. These cases tend to include surgical operations and procedures that lead to injuries, wrongful death, prescription drug errors, nursing home abuse, misdiagnoses, and plastic surgery mistakes.
Unique Procedural Considerations
While the state recognizes that it is unforgivable when medical professionals act carelessly and cause harm, there is a fear that rampant lawsuits will drive healthcare costs up—ending up with medical providers seeking protection from litigation. Thus, the personal injury laws of New Hampshire require a pretrial screening of every medical malpractice claim filed with the courts, to weed out more frivolous claims.
Within 14 days of a petition’s submission, a screening panel will be formed to check if the claim has merit. The body will check if there has been a deviation from the standard of care required in medical procedures, if there is a causal link between the deviation and the injuries sustained, and if there has been an impact on the patient’s life.
Potential Medical Malpractice Defendants
The parties liable for medical malpractice suits in New Hampshire are those considered under the law to be medical professionals. This encompasses a wide variety of individuals and facilities—from hospitals and clinics, to doctors, dentists, psychiatrists, nurses, and podiatrists. This list is non-exhaustive and extends to the officers, employees, and agents of employers in the healthcare sector.
Premises Liability Law in New Hampshire
Property owners in New Hampshire are required to keep their properties safe for visitors. Floors have to be maintained for sufficient traction to prevent slips, while ice and debris need to be removed from walkways. The responsibility extends to indoor and outdoor areas under a property owner’s control, ranging from building interiors to parking lots. Any place that one has control over has to be safe for outsiders.
The Property Owner’s Responsibilities
Parties who own premises are expected to train personnel on how to keep a place safe through the proper operation of heavy machinery and the prevention of catastrophic failures through routine upkeep. There must be signs denoting danger and hazardous conditions wherever applicable, including clear indicators of emergency exits. Strict implementation and periodic improvements to safety protocols are a must.
Considerations for Trespassers
The personal injury law in New Hampshire does not prohibit trespassers from obtaining damages in a personal injury suit. The duty to keep a venue safe extends to those who are uninvited to a location. This is in contrast to other jurisdictions where the duty of care is only applicable to those who have been welcomed to a property, preventing a situation where a potential burglar could sue the person targeted for theft.
New Hampshire Business Liability Insurance Requirements
The laws of New Hampshire generally do not require business liability insurance policies before one can establish a venture, though it is ideal to procure private plans. There is a risk that employees and co-owners will commit or be accused of tortious actions throughout a business’s operations, and it is always advisable to be protected in case the company is accused of causing bodily harm or property damage. The exception is workmen’s compensation, which is mandatory.
Workers’ Compensation: Who Needs to be Covered
Public policy recognizes that hazardous work conditions exist and that members of the country’s workforce has to be protected in the event of calamities and accidents. As such, New Hampshire personal injury and labor laws require businesses to have workers’ compensation insurance policies. The state Department of Labor extends the requirement to family members, full-time, and part-time employees who render services to an employer. The requirement cannot be satisfied by using an equivalent health insurance plan.
Workers’ Compensation: Who Don’t Need Coverage
Independent contractors are not required to be insured under workers’ compensation law. An independent contractor does not count as an employee because they are self-employed individuals who are not formally part of the company roster. A self-employed person may self-insure, though it is not needed. An LLC or corporation with three or fewer executive officers and no employees does not need coverage, though this changes the moment a fourth officer is brought in.
Motor Vehicle Accident Laws in New Hampshire
In 2022, New Hampshire recorded another increase in its rate of motor vehicle fatalities, with 139 deaths resulting from 130 fatal crashes. The New Hampshire Office of Highway Safety found that, historically, the common factors in crashes and related deaths in the past few years throughout the state include speeding, alcohol intoxication, distracted driving, and failure to wear seat belts.
The state’s traffic laws aim to prevent motor vehicle accidents, while its personal injury laws serve as legal protections for accident victims. Central to these statutes is the determination of responsibility, toward the victim getting due compensation for their injuries and property damage.
New Hampshire is an at-fault state for insurance claims. It usually requires fault on the part of the defendant before a plaintiff can recover restitution from the defendant's insurance provider. (This is in contrast with the rules of no-fault states, where you can seek compensation from your own insurance carrier, regardless of who caused the crash.)
The state, however, legally does not require anyone to purchase an insurance policy before driving a car. Instead, under the state's Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, they must demonstrate their ability to pay for any resulting damages if they are found to be at fault in an accident. Car owners can comply with the law by purchasing liability coverage or depositing money with the state treasurer.
Modified Comparative Negligence Laws in New Hampshire
Section 507:7-d of the 2015 New Hampshire Revised Statutes allows a claimant to obtain damages even if the plaintiff is partly to blame for the injuries. The caveat is that the party suing must not be more than 50% to blame for the incident. The courts will determine which party was more at fault and adjust the award based on each party’s proportional share of the blame.
For example, jaywalkers who were struck by speeding drivers are partly culpable for broken bones and organ damage because they were not using pedestrian lanes when crossing the road. This does not mean that the drivers cannot be sued because these individuals were also going too fast. If the pedestrians go to court and are found to be only 49% at fault, they can receive 51% of whatever sums they ask for. This is in contrast to a pure comparative fault state where the defendant can also obtain 49% of the damages they seek.
How Much Can Someone Sue For an Injury in New Hampshire?
Damages are awarded in civil cases to return the injured party to a state as close to pre-injury as possible. The goal generally is restitution and not punishment.
There are specific rules regarding caps or limits in New Hampshire, and it varies on a case per case basis. Medical malpractice cases, for example, have no cap on damages because the law imposing one was challenged before the State Supreme Court and found to be unconstitutional.
Economic and Non-Economic Damages
Two general classes of damages can be pursued in a personal injury lawsuit in New Hampshire. Economic damages are available for the quantifiable and tangible losses that a plaintiff has suffered. These are proven by presenting documentary evidence like receipts, doctor’s bills, and invoices that prove the extent of the medical expenses and treatments incurred. The claimant may also seek compensation for the costs of rehabilitation, lost wages, and home care. Economic damages are also referred to as special damages in the state.
Non-economic damages are awarded for the intangible and unquantifiable harm sustained by individuals and families. This extends to the pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life suffered after a tort.
Enhanced Economic Damages
New Hampshire does not recognize the existence of punitive damages in the absence of specific laws calling for these in select cases. Instead, the state recognizes the concept of enhanced economic damages.
These are analogous to punitive damages awarded in other jurisdictions. Enhanced compensatory damages are awarded in cases of malicious, wanton, and intentional misconduct. Wantonness refers to negligence so gross that there was effectively a total lack of care and a complete disregard for risks. These damages are rarely awarded and are not given out with drunk driving cases.
The Statute of Limitations in New Hampshire
The statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits in New Hampshire generally gives a complainant three years from an injurious act or omission to sue the defendant. This is designed to encourage complainants to proactively pursue restitution and the preservation of their rights.
However, the discovery rule is in effect. If the injury was not immediately apparent, the three-year period begins from the date that the injury was discovered or could have reasonably been discovered. This allows for cases that are technically four years old or more to still be submitted to court, as long as the patient proves that the issues caused by the defendant’s conduct could not have been uncovered within three years.
For example, internal damage may take a year to manifest, and this would allow a claimant to sue up to four years after an accident occurred. Proving causality between the injury sustained and the original incident would be a challenge, however, and would require ample amounts of documentary and testimonial evidence from doctors and witnesses.
Legal Resources for Injured Folks in New Hampshire
Personal injury law is a multifaceted issue where medical, legal, and psychological issues coincide in a single case. The resources provided are designed to give readers a head start with their personal injury lawsuits and the subsequent healing process. The list encompasses legal resources to help individuals and families study the law and link up with a trained professional.
New Hampshire Legal Assistance delivers aid to those who have economic difficulties obtaining a private lawyer. It has been around since 1971, and its personal injury law services focus on the elderly (aged 60 and over) who suffer from nursing home abuse. The office also tangentially tackles public benefits, permanent and total disability, and Social Security matters—fields connected to workmen’s compensation.
The Disability Rights Center - New Hampshire is a designated advocacy and protection agency that was established under federal laws to provide a variety of remedies to individuals with disabilities. Victims of personal injury who have sustained severe mental and physical harm may consult with the office. The organization gives advice, referral services, and legal representation to clients who meet financial criteria. Its issue areas extend from the needs of those with developmental challenges to those who need psychiatric assistance.
The New Hampshire Law Library is a public repository of legal books that operates in conjunction with the New Hampshire Judicial Branch. The website contains links to the library’s catalog, which visitors may use to see which books are currently checked out or available for reading–essentially acting as an electronic card file. The building itself is at the Supreme Court Building on One Charles Doe Drive, Concord. It has public computers with internet access, and these units are connected to various established resources like professional law libraries used by the legal community and productivity suites such as Microsoft Office.
The New Hampshire Bar Association maintains a lawyer referral service that connects clients with lawyers in various fields of law, ranging from personal injury and malpractice law to connected fields like criminal defense and employment legislation. The office links clients with free and reduced-fee attorneys with three options for consultations: instantly online, staff-guided over the internet, and over the phone.
An online catalog of New Hampshire’s civil laws covering a variety of legal matters, from the responsibilities of animal owners and motorists to the conduct of proceedings in court. The code has penal law provisions for torts that have a criminal law component, like motor vehicle accidents where the driver was under the influence or intentionally destructive. It also tackles insurance-related concerns like the creation of the insurance commission and the regulation of assurance firms and claims.
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