A personal injury accident occurs when a person suffers some type of harm or injury, as the result of another individual’s carelessness or disregard. Following an accident, the injured party can file a personal injury claim against the responsible party. They would then use the civil court proceeding to collect compensatory damages for their injuries.
It is important to note that personal injury law is distinctive from criminal law. When a person files a personal injury lawsuit, it is a lawsuit filed in civil court. Criminal actions may also be filed separately if the incident which caused the personal injury was criminal in nature.
Personal injury actions can be categorized in one of three ways, each of which have separate sets of elements which must be shown in order for a plaintiff to be successful in their claim. These categories include:
A personal injury may occur from a number of different types of events. The most common types of accidents include the following:
A personal injury can damage the plaintiff’s emotional health, physical health, or both. Examples of mental health injuries include emotional pain and anguish, which is sustained by the accident. Alternatively, a physical injury can include an injury to the plaintiff’s organs, limbs, or other parts of their body. It is important to note that injury which is sustained by the plaintiff does not have to manifest immediately, as some personal injuries develop over time.
Personal injuries can occur intentionally, including cases in which a defendant deliberately injures a plaintiff, or where the defendant intends to commit an act which they know will result in injury to the plaintiff. Personal injuries can also occur unintentionally. If an unintentional injury is the result of the defendant’s negligence, the plaintiff can file a civil lawsuit based on that negligent behavior.
What Is Negligence?
Negligence is the legal theory that allows injured parties to recover legal damages for the carelessness of others. A person is considered to be negligent if they were careless, given the circumstances of the situation.
Negligence has four elements that must be shown in order to recover for personal injuries. However, even if those four parts are shown and negligence is established, a defense could still mitigate how much a defending party must pay.
The four elements that must be shown in order for a plaintiff to recover a monetary damages award for personal injuries are:
- Duty: A duty is the responsibility that one person owes to another person. In general, people who are going about their business owe each other a duty of reasonable care. Reasonable care refers to the amount of care that an ordinary and prudent person would use in the same circumstances. An example of this would be how if a person is driving during a rainstorm, they would be exercising reasonable care by driving slower and having their headlights on in an effort to increase visibility. However, a person would not be exercising their duty of reasonable care if they instead were driving forty miles per hour over the speed limit;
- Breach: Breach of duty occurs when a person’s level of care falls below the level that is required by their duty. In the above example, the person who was driving forty miles per hour breached their duty of reasonable care by driving dangerously during inclement weather;
- Causation: The breach of a duty must be the cause of injury. While the legal test for causation can be more complex, the basic test is ‘but for’ one party’s actions the injury would not have occurred. In the above example, if the person who was driving too fast during a rainstorm did not have enough time to stop before hitting another vehicle, then that driver has breached their duty of reasonable care which then caused injury to the other driver; and
- Damages: Generally speaking, there must be some sort of harm that occurred to the party who was not behaving negligently. The specific type of injury can vary, from property damage and emotional stress, to lost wages.
To reiterate, all of the above elements must be present in order to successfully determine that the other party in an accident was negligent. If one of the above elements cannot be proven, then negligence cannot be established.
The most common example of negligence would be personal injury, such as the auto accident that was used as an example above. However, as a legal concept, negligence is a flexible idea that can appear in many different contexts. Emotional harm developing due to negligent conduct, such as PTSD, is also cause for a lawsuit based on negligence.
Negligence can also occur in the work setting. An example of this would be how an employer could be negligent by not providing an employee with the proper safety equipment which would have prevented an injury. Training and supervision are another area in which an employer could be negligent, which then causes employee injury.
Businesses can also act negligently by designing, producing, and providing faulty goods that cause injury. Additionally, negligently making or designing goods for sale can result in a lawsuit. An example of this would be how failing to test a toaster in order to ensure that it does not burst into flames would be negligent making.
What Is A Good Samaritan Law?
Some states have Good Samaritan laws in place which shield people from liability when they attempt to assist someone who is in danger and in need of help. An example of this would be how if you see a person collapse in the middle of a street and act quickly to get them out of traffic, but unintentionally break their arm in the process of saving them from being hit by a car, a Good Samaritan law would likely prevent you from being held legally liable for breaking their arm.
However, most states allow a victim to sue a Good Samaritan if the Good Samaritan acted negligently. An example of this would be how if you dragged the collapsed person directly into a burning building, the law likely would not shield you from a lawsuit for the injuries that the injured person sustained while being in the burning building. This is because a reasonable person would not drag an injured person into a flaming building.
With the passage of Good Samaritan laws, states are attempting to protect and encourage innocent bystanders to help those in emergencies when they are able to do so. However, you may not qualify as a Good Samaritan if you are required to assist someone in an emergency situation:
- If you did not cause the emergency and there is a great risk to your safety, most states say you do not have to assist the injured party;
- If you accidentally cause further injuries, the law can give you protection from lawsuits if you acted reasonably given the specifics of the situation; and
- If you caused the emergency, you must assist those injured as the party who injured them, and not as a Good Samaritan.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Good Samaritan Laws?
An experienced personal injury attorney can assess your specific situation, as well as your legal rights and duties. Additionally, your personal injury lawyer will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, should a lawsuit arise.