In short, personal injury law allows injured parties to recover a monetary damages award to compensate them for the injuries that they experienced from an accident. Personal injury law does not address criminal law; as such, when a person files a personal injury lawsuit, it is a civil lawsuit. A criminal action may be filed separately, if the incident leading to the personal injury was of a criminal nature.
A personal injury action may be one of three types:
- Intentional tort: An intentional tort is committed against another person, with purpose. However, it may also be defined by a simple awareness of the results of your action. Additionally, while the wrong action is most commonly committed against a person, it can also be committed to property;
- Negligence: Generally speaking, the tort of personal injury is not committed with the intent to impact the other person. It could occur as the result of the defendant’s negligent behavior. The following must be established in order to prove negligence:
- Duty: Did the defendant owe a duty to the plaintiff? An example of this would be how a doctor has a duty associated with their professional responsibilities to care for their patient. The nature of the duty may be based on similar professional standards, but there is an additional “standard of reasonable care” that members of society owe to each other. An example of this would be how all drivers have the responsibility to not drive in such a way that they bring, or could bring, harm to other drivers and pedestrians;
- Breach of Duty: Once duty has been established, the plaintiff must show that the duty was breached in some way. To expand upon the previous examples, a breach of duty would occur when the doctor did not perform their duty to their patient with reasonable care. The driver did not drive in a reasonably safe manner;
- Causation: Simply being in a vehicle accident in which you were injured, and someone else caused the accident, does not prove causation. The plaintiff must specifically show that the defendant driver’s actions actually caused their injuries. What this means is that no other intervening actions must have caused the injuries. An example of this would be a biker that you both swerved to avoid, because in that situation it is possible to hold the biker accountable; and
- Damages: If there is no injury to you or damage to your vehicle, you cannot collect damages under this type of action simply because someone hit your car with theirs. Actual injury, or “damages,” must be proven.
- Strict liability: These are specialized cases, which generally apply to business owners or manufacturers, who have a responsibility to ensure that their products are safe for consumers. When injury occurs in such a case, the defendant will be held responsible automatically; meaning, it does not matter if they had intent, or were negligent.