Torts and Personal Injuries
Maybe you've heard the phrase “tort reform" and wondered what exactly it meant. Or you've been injured in an accident, and you're wondering if you have a legal claim. "Torts" are simply personal injuries caused by civil (as opposed to criminal) wrongs. They have evolved from common law or law that has been created through court cases rather than civil codes. Tort laws can include everything from car accident injuries to injuries stemming from causes of action involving:
- Assault, battery, false imprisonment (intentional torts)
- Slip and falls, wrongful death, medical malpractice (negligent torts)
- Inherently dangerous activities (strict liability torts involving defective products or product liability)
FindLaw's Torts and Personal Injuries section can help you learn more about a wide range of personal injury claims. You can also access resources on the elements of a tort claim as well as what you can win after a successful tort case.
Torts can cover simple accidents like slip and fall, dog bite, and motor vehicle accident cases. They also include intentional harms like assault, defamation, and infliction of emotional distress. Civil tort claims are different from criminal law violations that can be prosecuted by the state.
Some tort cases can involve behavior where one party carelessly causes an accident. Car crashes and slip and fall cases fall under the tort umbrella. Generally, lawsuits attempting to prove fault for an accident are also referred to as negligence claims. In these types of claims, one party:
- Owes a duty of care to another;
- Fails to meet that level of reasonable care; and
- That failure causes a tangible harm to someone else
Most accidental tort cases hinge on being able to prove fault. This can be complicated in terms of facts and law. In slip and fall cases, this is normally an examination of:
- The property owner's duty to maintain safe conditions;
- Whether the owner acted reasonably in maintaining those conditions; and
- If there was any contributory negligence on the part of the injured party
When someone commits a wrong act on purpose rather than by accident, they may be liable for an intentional tort. Some examples of intentional torts include:
- Battery (physical harm to others)
- Assault (attempting or threatening harm to others)
- Invasion of privacy
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress.
While all of these include an element of intent, proving the harm and identifying the other party as the cause (or “causation") of the harm can be difficult.
Other intentional torts include fraud, trespassing, and “conversion," which looks a lot like theft. Many intentional torts are also criminal acts that may be prosecuted by the government. On the other hand, civil law allows for private tort lawsuits to help victims recover the full amount of their damages.
Strict Liability Tort Recovery
Strict liability torts involve inherently dangerous activities or defective products. Respective examples include:
- Keeping wild animals or handling dangerous explosives
- A defective car steering wheel that won't turn
Strict liability lets you recover without having to prove negligence. In other words, an injured plaintiff only needs to show that the tort occurred as a result of the defendant manufacturing a defective product or doing something extremely hazardous.
Personal injury torts may be the subject of class action lawsuits. This means you may be able to group your case with those of other people. Grouped cases are called class actions.
In class actions, a representative of the class brings a lawsuit on behalf of others who are injured in the same way by the same wrongful conduct. If the class representative recovers damages, the award is split among members of the class.
For example, a car manufacturer's malfunctioning steering wheel might cause an accident. A class representative would be an injured driver in the accident. Multiple plaintiffs can join a mass lawsuit because they are part of a group of drivers that have been injured in those accidents.
Hiring a Tort Lawyer
Proving a tort claim and overcoming procedural hurdles can be a complicated legal effort. On top of that, fighting with big insurance companies is challenging. Consulting with an experienced tort lawyer (a personal injury attorney) can help you understand if you have a claim. They can also explain how the legal process is likely to play out, and whether and how much in compensatory damages and punitive damages you might recover for your injuries. Compensatory damages can make you whole for your injuries, while punitive damages are designed to punish defendants by getting you even more money.
State laws will vary on how the parties must determine if a civil wrong has occurred. With a personal injury lawyer on your side, you can bring a personal injury lawsuit and recover a plaintiff's injuries. This includes medical expenses, property damage, and pain and suffering (e.g. physical and emotional pains) you have incurred.
Personal injury cases must be filed within a time limit imposed by state law known as the statute of limitations. For this reason, an injured person has a limited period to bring a civil lawsuit concerning the defendant's actions.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
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