Personal injury law is also known as tort law. A tort is a civil wrong other than a breach of contract that causes harm or loss in legal terms. This area of law is intended to protect if you or your property is injured due to someone else’s act or failure to act. When successful, the individual who caused the injury or harm compensates the individual who suffered the losses, typically through a monetary damages award.
Civil tort law is also intended to prevent or deter further wrongdoing by delivering economic damages for foreseeable harm caused by another person breaching their duty of care. This standard of care is what a reasonable person in a similar situation would do.
Some instances of wrongdoing include, but may not be limited to things that:
- Cause bodily or economic injury;
- Cause pain and suffering;
- Transgress privacy, property, or constitutional rights; and
- Damage a person’s reputation.
Torts are typically classified as either intentional, unintentional, or strict liability torts. Intentional torts are wrongful acts that were done on purpose; as such, it is not necessary to establish that the plaintiff planned to harm the defendant, only that the defendant intentionally did something that caused harm to the plaintiff. Intentional torts can be broken down into intentional torts to the person and intentional torts to property.
Unintentional torts typically involve a claim based on negligence. An unintentional tort is an accident that causes harm to another person. There is a liability because the party who was negligent owed the victim a duty to act as a reasonable individual would act in a similar situation and breached that duty.
Strict liability torts are those in which the plaintiff does not have to demonstrate that the defendant violated a standard of care. Strict liability typically applies in cases involving inherently dangerous activities, and as such, the defendant is liable merely because they were doing something dangerous and someone got injured. Some instances of strict liability include using explosives or transporting toxic chemicals and animal attacks such as dog bite claims.
Products liability torts are another type of strict liability. Someone who files a lawsuit against the manufacturer of a product must demonstrate that the product was defective and caused an injury. They do not need to demonstrate that the manufacturer was negligent or that they intentionally made a defective product.
How Are Personal Injury Lawsuits Initiated?
Personal injury lawsuits begin when the aggrieved party, also known as the plaintiff, files a complaint with the court. A complaint is a technical legal document describing the relevant facts and the precise laws that the defendant allegedly disobeyed.
The complaint also describes what the plaintiff expects the court to do, such as award damages or issue an order instructing the defendant to do something or cease doing something. Generally speaking, the complaint should be drafted by a lawyer.
Once the complaint has been filed, the defendant will have an opportunity to answer the allegations in a document called an answer. If the defendant has a personal claim against the plaintiff, the defendant may also file a complaint, generally referred to as a counterclaim. At this early stage in the lawsuit, any relevant third parties may also be added to the litigation through various procedural steps.
In the pre-trial litigation process, both parties will ask for evidence and witness information. The other party must communicate any relevant information that they have. This stage of the process is called discovery. During these early phases, both parties will appear in court to update the judge on how the case is being handled. Further, the disputing parties can both agree to mediation or arbitration in which they set a trial date.
Once the case appears to be moving closer to the actual trial, the disputing parties will begin to:
- Engage in mandatory settlement conferences;
- Make motions to establish what evidence will be permitted at trial; and
- Select a jury.
What Do Personal Injury Attorneys Do?
Personal injury attorneys can provide representation for either the victim or the defendant. They provide representation for many different types of cases, including but not limited to:
- Auto accidents;
- Boating accidents;
- Injuries at work;
- Medical malpractice; and
- Defective product injuries.
Additionally, the lawyers for each side will research the facts of each specific case and what law will best apply to the lawsuit. This is referred to as discovery.
Do I Need to Interview My Personal Injury Lawyer?
Before you enlist the assistance of a personal injury lawyer, you must learn fundamental information about them. This can be done in an informal interview over the phone and through email before hiring them.
It would be best not to hesitate to conduct a thorough interview with the attorney since you will be working closely with them. The outcome of your injury claim will depend on having a reliable client-attorney relationship before any litigation begins.
Personal Injury Checklist
If you’ve been involved in a personal injury, there may be a lot of info that you will need to keep track of. You may wish to create a “personal injury checklist” to help you keep everything in order. This is a list of all the essential data and documents that might be used when initiating a personal injury lawsuit or legal claim.
Making your checklist helps to organize your list into two different categories: “Important Information” and “Documents.” For instance, you may wish to write your list as follows:
- Contact information of the party that caused your injury or injuries
- Contact information of any other individuals involved in the event
- Date, place, and circumstances of the accident
- Names and contact info of any witnesses or individuals you spoke to immediately after the accident
- Name, address, and contact number of the emergency room or hospital you visited after the injury
- Contact info of all the doctors who treated or examined you
- Details regarding insurance policies, both for your insurance company and the other party that was involved
- Dates of work periods that you missed due to the injury or accident
- Any other essential data, statistics, or contact information
- Police reports or accident reports
- Written statements from the opposing party and key witnesses
- Medical coverage policies
- Medical bills, pharmaceutical receipts, bills from visits to the chiropractor, etc.
- Insurance policy statements
- Other significant policies, such as medical coverage, work benefits, and veteran’s insurance
- All correspondences/letters from the opposite party, witnesses, and third-party operators such as insurance companies or government agencies
- Receipts for costs related to the injury, especially for damaged property
- Pay stubs (if you have lost wages on account of the accident)
- A list of any questions you may have when interviewing your injury lawyer
- Any photographs or video footage of the accident and the incident scene immediately following the event.
As you can see, there may be a lot of information to process, even for claims that seem to be straightforward. Be sure to make copies of the documents and verify that all the information is correct- these can be used as proof if you decide to file a lawsuit. Also, it is useful to make a written account of the event (like a diary entry) to record the details for later reference.
How Can a Lawyer Help with a Personal Injury?
You may wish to employ a personal injury lawyer for help with your personal injury claim. Your personal injury lawyer can help you compile the info and documents in preparation for a lawsuit. Personal injury laws can be quite different from state to state, so be sure to inquire with an attorney if you need help with the rules in your area.