Injury Law Basics
You've suffered an injury and think that someone else is responsible. Even though it's probably the last thing you want to do while dealing with an injury, it's best to take certain steps immediately after an injury to protect your legal rights. For example, taking detailed notes of the incident and injuries can strengthen your case. These notes can also be helpful when discussing your legal options with an attorney. Even if you've hired an experienced personal injury attorney, it's good to have an idea of what's going on in your case.
In FindLaw's Injury Law Basics section, you can find articles that explain different types of personal injuries that could result in a personal injury case, tips for working with an injury lawyer, and the stages of a personal injury case.
What Is a Personal Injury Case?
A personal injury case is a legal dispute. It arises after a person suffers harm from an injury where someone else might be legally responsible for that harm due to negligence. Personal injury law has mostly developed through court decisions, although many states have taken steps to summarize the development of personal injury law in their statutes. A personal injury can result in a civil lawsuit or be resolved through informal settlement negotiations.
A personal injury case can also be resolved through alternative dispute resolution, which is a middle ground between a court trial and informal settlement negotiations. Examples of alternative dispute resolution are mediation and arbitration. Alternative dispute resolution involves a neutral third party – a mediator or arbitrator – guiding the negotiation discussions and sometimes even rendering a decision. There are also instances in which alternative dispute resolution is binding. This means that the parties waive their right to trial and must abide by the third party's decision.
Types of Injuries
Injuries can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes someone else is at fault. Other times, you only have yourself to blame. Maybe it was simply an accident. If someone else is at fault for your injuries, you may have a legitimate tort claim for damages.
There are many situations in which another person or company can be responsible for your injuries. The clearest example is when a person is injured after another person's intentional acts. Examples of intentional acts that can lead to another person's injuries are:
In most cases, the intention doesn't need to be to harm someone. Instead, the person must simply have the intention to perform a particular act. For example, if someone pulls the chair out from under another person and the victim falls and breaks their arm, the actor could be held liable for the victim's injuries. Although the person probably didn't intend for the victim to break their arm, the person did intend to pull the chair out from under the victim.
A person can also be held responsible for another person's injuries if they acted in a negligent manner. The elements of negligence are:
The plaintiff must prove each element in order for the plaintiff to win their case. Negligence is a common claim for injuries resulting from car accidents.
There are several other causes for injuries that could result in a valid legal claim. Injuries that result from medical malpractice or a prescription drug could be a reason for a personal injury lawsuit. Even food poisoning is a type of case that could result in a civil lawsuit for damages.
In personal injury law, comparative negligence is a principle that assesses and assigns a percentage of fault to each party involved in an accident. This proportion of fault then determines the amount of damages a party can recover.
Duty of Care
Duty of care refers to a person's responsibility to avoid causing harm to others. In personal injury law, it is the legal obligation to act in a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others.
Auto accidents often lead to personal injury claims. Negligence is the primary legal theory for seeking damages in vehicle accident cases. A driver may be considered negligent if they fail to exercise reasonable care on the road, leading to injury to others.
In the context of personal injury cases, seeking medical attention immediately after an incident is crucial. Timely medical care can substantiate your claim about the severity of your injuries. It can help link them directly to the incident through medical records, enhancing the credibility of your case.
Medical treatment refers to the management and care of a patient to combat disease or disorder. In personal injury cases, the cost of medical treatment forms a significant part of the compensation claimed. This includes past, present, and future expenses related to the injury, such as hospitalization, medication, physiotherapy, and surgeries.
Medical bills form a major part of the economic damages sought in a personal injury lawsuit.
Medical expenses include:
- Costs incurred by the injured person for emergency room visits
- Rehabilitation therapies
- Any future medical care required as a result of the injury
Documenting these expenses meticulously is crucial to obtaining fair compensation.
Disfigurement in a personal injury case refers to any permanent damage to the appearance or function of a body part. Victims of disfigurement can claim compensation for physical and emotional distress. This could be due to burn injuries, loss of limb, or significant scarring.
Types of Damages
In a personal injury lawsuit, damages refer to the monetary compensation a plaintiff may receive. These are often classified into two main categories: compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages aim to reimburse the injured party for losses incurred as a result of the accident or injury. These can further be broken down into two sub-categories:
- Economic Damages: These are damages that have a clear, direct monetary value. They cover quantifiable losses such as medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and rehabilitation costs.
- Non-Economic Damages: These are damages that do not have a clear monetary value. They are often more subjective. They're intended to compensate for intangible or non-monetary losses such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, may be awarded in addition to compensatory damages when the defendant's behavior is found to be especially harmful or egregious. These are not meant to compensate the victim but instead are intended to punish the defendant and deter similar harmful behavior in the future.
In summary, both economic and non-economic damages are forms of compensatory damages, aiming to make the injured party 'whole' again. Punitive damages are a separate category altogether, which serve a punishing and deterring function rather than a compensatory one.
Property damage refers to the harm, damage, or destruction of personal property. This can include vehicles, homes, and personal belongings.
When seeking compensation for property damage, the compensation awarded typically corresponds to the fair market value of the damaged items at the time of the incident.
The fair market value is determined by the price at which the property could have been sold in the market, taking into account its condition and age at the time of the damage. This may not necessarily cover the full cost of replacing the item with a new one.
Workers' compensation is a state-law compensation program. It provides wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured in the course of employment. It's a trade-off. Workers give up their right to sue their employer for negligence in exchange for guaranteed compensation.
Premises liability involves an injury caused by an unsafe or defective condition on someone's property. The property owner or occupier can be held responsible if it's proven they were negligent concerning ownership or maintenance of the property.
Defective products can cause serious injury. Under product liability law, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers can be held liable for injuries caused by their defective products.
Product defects may arise from:
- Design defects
- Manufacturing defects
- Failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions
Product liability refers to a manufacturer or seller's responsibility for placing a defective product into the hands of a consumer. This can result in severe injury and, thus, lead to a personal injury claim.
Dog bites can lead to serious injuries and potential legal action. In many jurisdictions, dog owners can be held strictly liable for injuries caused by their pets.
Strict liability is a legal principle that holds the owner responsible for the damages or injuries their dog causes, regardless of whether the dog has shown prior signs of aggression or if the owner was aware of such aggressive tendencies. This means that the injured party doesn't need to prove that the dog owner was negligent or knew that their dog was likely to cause harm. The mere fact that the dog bit someone can be enough to hold the owner liable.
Defamation involves a false statement made by one person about another that harms the person's reputation. If a false statement is made maliciously or negligently and results in harm, a defamation suit may arise.
The specific requirements for a defamation claim can vary. For private individuals, it typically suffices to demonstrate that the defendant negligently communicated a false statement that resulted in harm. However, in cases involving public figures or matters of public concern, the plaintiff may need to prove actual malice, meaning that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth.
A contingency fee is a type of payment arrangement. It allows a client who has been injured and is seeking a legal remedy to obtain legal services with no upfront costs. Instead, lawyers are paid a percentage of the compensation if the case is won. If the client doesn't win the case, the lawyer doesn't get a fee.
While a contingency fee covers the lawyer's professional services, the client may still be responsible for other case-related costs, regardless of the case outcome. These expenses can include court fees, costs for obtaining medical records, fees for expert witnesses, and other litigation expenses.
An insurance adjuster is an individual employed by an insurance company to evaluate and settle insurance claims. In a personal injury case, the adjuster will assess the damages and injuries to determine how much the insurance company should pay for the claim, which can include vehicle damage in auto accidents or property damage and personal injuries in homeowner's liability claims.
Not every loss might be covered by insurance. For instance, intentional torts are often excluded from coverage under many insurance policies. The role of an insurance adjuster can be integral to the claim process as their assessment can significantly influence the amount offered in a settlement. Understanding their role can be vital for those navigating a personal injury claim.
A wrongful death claim arises when a person dies due to the legal fault of another person or entity. Close relatives/loved ones may be able to sue for damages, including loss of companionship, loss of support, and emotional distress.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations sets the maximum time after an injury within which legal proceedings can be initiated. In personal injury law, this period varies by state and by the type of injury. Failure to file within this time limit can result in the loss of the right to seek compensation.
Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer for Your Personal Injury Claim
If you or someone you love has suffered an injury that you believe is the fault of another person or company, you may want to contact a local personal injury attorney for legal advice. It's important to remember that each state has a time limit for when a personal injury lawsuit can be filed. For this reason, it's important to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after being injured.
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