What You Need To Know About Personal Injury Matters
At any moment in America, millions of people are driving, walking, shopping, traveling and working. It is no wonder that accidents and injuries have become an inevitable part of life. But the fact that mishaps are fairly common does not detract from the pain and confusion that they cause.
If you decide to take steps toward protecting your legal rights after an injury, you may have a number of questions.
For additional information, continue reading below or get in touch with us by phone at 800-469-6476 or through our online form.
- What is a personal injury case?
- Proving fault: What is negligence?
- Where are personal injury lawsuits filed?
- Where are the laws that govern personal injury cases?
What Is A Personal Injury Case?
Personal injury cases arise when someone suffers harm from an accident and someone else might be legally responsible for that harm. A personal injury case can be formalized through civil court proceedings and seek to find others legally at fault. More commonly, though, such disputes are resolved through informal settlement before any lawsuit is filed.
Proving Fault: What Is Negligence?
In most claims — from car accidents to slip-and-fall cases — the basis for holding a person or company responsible for your injuries comes from a theory called “negligence.”
Generally speaking, when someone acts in a careless way and causes injury to another person, under the legal principle of “negligence,” the careless person will be legally liable for any resulting harm. This basis for determining fault is used in most disputes, during informal settlement talks and up through a trial in a personal injury lawsuit.
Specifically, in negligence claims, the plaintiff (the person injured) tries to show that the defendant (the person supposedly at fault):
- Owed a legal duty of care to the plaintiff under the circumstances
- Failed to fulfill (“breached”) that legal duty through conduct or action (this can include a failure to act)
- Caused an accident or injury involving the plaintiff
- Harmed or injured the plaintiff as a result
To illustrate how these four elements work, take a hypothetical personal injury case: Don speeds through an intersection against a red light and hits a vehicle driven by Pat, who had the green light and the right of way. In a personal injury dispute based on negligence, plaintiff Pat will need to show that:
- As the operator of a car on public streets, defendant Don owed all other drivers (including plaintiff Pat) a legal duty to drive with reasonable caution under the circumstances.
- By speeding through the intersection and running the red light, defendant Don failed to fulfill (“breached”) that legal duty.
- In failing to fulfill his legal duty to drive with reasonable care under the circumstances, defendant Don caused his vehicle to collide with Pat’s car.
- Due to his collision with Don’s car, Pat suffered injury (property damage and physical injury)
Resolution Before Trial: Settlement
The majority of legal claims arising from accidents or injuries do not reach a civil court trial — most are resolved earlier through a negotiated settlement among the parties. An informal settlement can even take place before any lawsuit is filed. Through settlement, the plaintiff agrees to give up the right to pursue further legal action in connection with the accident or injury, in exchange for the payment of an agreed-upon sum of money from the defendant or an insurance company. In rare cases, instead of paying money, the defendant will agree to perform (or cease performing) a certain action.
If you are considering settling a legal claim after an accident or injury, or if you have received a settlement offer, you should talk to your attorney for a thorough assessment of the case and the prospects for settlement. Consider the following points:
- Amount he or she thinks the case is worth in a range of dollar amounts
- Verdicts and settlements in similar cases
- Chances of winning at trial
- Unfavorable publicity for either side (civil court trials are open to the public and media)
- Amount of personal information that could be revealed
- Possible disclosure of business information or trade secrets
- The defendant’s monetary resources
- What you’re willing to concede to settle the case
Where Are Personal Injury Lawsuits Filed?
Personal injury lawsuits usually fall under the authority (or “jurisdiction”) of state courts in the county where the injury occurred, or where those involved (the “parties”) in the incident are located.
An exception to the rule of state court jurisdiction arises when parties in a personal injury case live in different states. Such a personal injury case may be filed under federal jurisdiction in the federal trial courts (called U.S. District Courts), or the case may be moved there if it was originally filed in a state court. Issues of jurisdiction can be tricky for those unfamiliar with the legal process, but an experienced lawyer can sort through any problems that may arise in deciding where to file a lawsuit.
Where Are The Laws That Govern Personal Injury Cases?
Unlike other areas of the law that find their rules in statutes (such as penal codes in criminal cases), the development of personal injury law has taken place mostly through court decisions and in treatises written by legal scholars. Many states have summarized the development of personal injury law in statutes, but for practical purposes, court decisions remain the main source of the law. (Note: In some types of injury cases, statutes can be used to help establish fault.)
To understand how pre-existing case law might be used to strengthen an injury case, suppose that you are involved in an accident or are injured, and decide to hire an attorney to protect your legal rights. During settlement negotiations, your attorney makes reference to prior cases in which the courts in your state decided on issues like fault or damages, in ways that are favorable to your position.
For example, suppose you have been injured in a slip-and-fall on an uneven sidewalk outside your apartment building. In seeking to prove that the owner of your building is at fault, your attorney might cite a case in which your state’s Supreme Court held that owners of residential buildings have a legal duty to ensure that the premises surrounding the building are properly maintained.