Personal injury law is an area of civil law that covers a broad range of circumstances where a party’s negligence or deliberate action causes harm to another. Personal injury can occur to the mind, body or emotions of a person, but does not apply to property. The injured person bringing the lawsuit is called the “plaintiff,” and the person or entity allegedly responsible for the injury is called the “defendant.” In some cases, there may be multiple liable parties, and the plaintiff may choose to sue all of them to recover compensation for his or her injuries. The defendant(s) in turn may allege that another person or entity was responsible and bring that person or entity into the lawsuit as a cross-defendant. The statutes for personal are purposely kept vague to allow for a broad range of situations to fit under them. If you think that you may have a personal injury case, it is best to contact a reputable personal injury law firm like Zlotolow & Associates, P.C. for a consultation.
Because personal injury cases are civil rather than criminal, the burden of proof of personal injury is based on a preponderance of the evidence, rather than reasonable doubt. This creates a lower burden of proof for the plaintiff in a personal injury case. So if a defendant is brought up on criminal and civil charges for the same incident, the defendant may often be acquitted of the criminal offense, yet found guilty in the personal injury case. The goal of a personal injury claim is for financial compensation, rather than criminal conviction of the defendant. Personal injury can occur in nearly any situation, but the largest amount of cases brought, tend to be based on the following: medical malpractice, vehicle accidents, slip and falls, defective products, assault and premises liability.
How is Someone Determined to be Negligent?
There are four primary factors used to determine negligence in a personal injury case. They are:
- Negligence – The person who has suffered an injury relies on the legal concept of negligence to establish the defendants fault for his injuries. This means that the plaintiff must establish their injuries were caused in part or in whole, by the recklessness, carelessness, or negligent actions of the defendant.
- Breach of Duty – A motorist has a duty to drive safely and observe all of the traffic laws and a doctor has a duty to maintain a professional set of standards at his practice. In the event that either of these does not happen, it amounts to a breach of duty. People have a duty to also use reasonable care to avoid creating a dangerous situation. Drunk drivers should avoid getting behind the wheel of a car, and restaurants have a duty to clean spills off the floor immediately, in a crowded restaurant. A personal injury suit must prove that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff and that that duty was breached through their negligent actions.
- Causation – To bring a successful compensation claim, the injured person has to not only prove that a third party was responsible for the accident, but also that their injury was caused by that accident. In catastrophic injury claims, the severity of the injuries may leave little room for doubt. In other not-so-serious cases, medical records will often help confirm causation. However, difficulties can arise, when the onset of symptoms is not immediate or do not appear serious at the first medical examination.
- Damages – In a successful personal injury case, money damages are paid to a plaintiff, by the defendant. Damages are assessed using a number of factors and are in some cases based on guidelines established by that state. A damage award can be agreed upon after a negotiated settlement among the parties, their insurance companies, and their attorneys, or may be ordered by a judge or jury following a court trial.