Personal injury law is the set of civil laws that covers how a party injured may recover for their injuries. In a claim for personal injury, the party that was injured, known as the plaintiff, claims that they have sustained an injury due to an act or failure to act by the defendant. A court may then award the plaintiff monetary damages for personal injury if they successfully prove their claim.
A personal injury can damage a plaintiff’s emotional, physical health, or both. For example, a defendant may face a civil personal injury lawsuit for damages that resulted from their assault of the plaintiff, as well as a criminal assault and battery charge.
A personal injury can result in damages to a plaintiff’s emotional health, physical health, or both. Mental health injuries may include emotional pain and anguish sustained by the incident. Physical injuries may include injuries to organs, limbs, or other parts of the anatomy.
Additionally, injuries sustained by a personal injury plaintiff do not need to manifest instantly, as many injuries may develop over time. However, a plaintiff that causes their injury to worsen by not following a doctor’s instructions may lose their ability to recover from their injuries.
How Do Personal Injuries Occur?
Several types of events or incidents may form the basis of a personal injury claim, including but not limited to the following:
A personal injury may occur intentionally, such as when the defendant deliberately injures a victim or intends to commit an act they know will injure another person. However, personal injuries most commonly occur due to a defendant’s unintentional actions.
If an unintentional injury results from someone’s negligence, the plaintiff may file a personal injury lawsuit based on their negligent behavior. Automobile accidents, slip and fall accidents, and injuries sustained from medical malpractice are the most common examples of personal injuries caused by another person’s negligent behavior.
How Is Negligence Determined in a Personal Injury Claim?
As mentioned above, personal injury is not always committed with the intent to harm another person. Personal injuries most commonly occur due to a defendant’s negligent behavior. A plaintiff must prove the following elements to prove negligence in a personal injury claim:
- Duty: Duty is the legal element that refers to the level of care that a reasonable person would apply to similar circumstances;
- Breach of Duty: Once the duty element has been established and proven, the plaintiff must then show that the defendant breached their duty;
- Causation: After the breach of duty is shown, the plaintiff must specifically show that the defendant’s actions or inaction caused their injuries.
- This means that there can be no other intervening actions that may have caused the plaintiff’s injuries; and
- Damages: Finally, a plaintiff must show an actual injury or financial damages.
- For example, the plaintiff cannot collect damages under a personal injury action simply because someone hit their car with their own if there is no injury to the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s car.
It is important to note that if the plaintiff fails to prove every element of negligence, the defendant may be able to have the personal claim brought against them dismissed by the court. There are also other legal defenses that a defendant may assert to lessen their liability or have the personal injury claim dismissed.
What Is a Personal Injury Defense?
As mentioned above, a defendant may assert a personal injury defense to have their liability for a plaintiff’s injuries reduced or dismissed altogether. As such, if a defendant is facing a personal injury lawsuit, knowing what defenses are available to them is imperative.
Once again, it is the plaintiff’s burden in a personal injury claim to prove every element of their claim. As such, most legal defenses relate to arguments attacking a certain element of the plaintiff’s personal injury claim.
For instance, if the plaintiff took a role in causing their own injuries, the defendant’s liability may be reduced, or the claim may be dismissed due to the plaintiff failing to prove the causation element. Below are some of the most common legal defenses that may be used in a personal injury case.
What Is Comparative and Contributory Negligence?
Almost every defendant in personal injury cases will argue that they were not completely at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries. Defendants will attempt to switch the blame to the plaintiff for causing their own injuries or make a counterclaim for injuries they suffered due to the plaintiff’s actions or inactions.
Depending on the particular personal injury laws of the state where the injury occurred, the defendant may argue that the plaintiff was comparatively or contributorily negligent. In comparative negligence states, the court will allow the plaintiff to recover damages even if they were somewhat at fault for their injuries. In comparative negligence states, the court will prorate the amount of negligence the defendant is responsible for in determining the damages they can seek from the defendant.
For example, if the total injury for an automobile accident is $100,000 and the plaintiff was 20 percent responsible for their own injuries, then the plaintiff will only be able to recover $80,000 in total damages from the defendant.
In contributory negligence states, the court will not award damages to the plaintiff if the plaintiff was at fault for contributing to their own injuries. This means that if a plaintiff was even one percent at fault for their injuries, they could recover nothing from the defendant. Some states have modified versions of both contributory and comparative negligence. As such, it is important to understand whether or not your state is a comparative or contributory negligence state.
What Is Assumption of Risk?
Assumption of risk is a legal defense that relies on the plaintiff knowing what type of potential injuries they may be getting into and assuming the risk for those injuries. For example, if the plaintiff voluntarily plays tackle football with the defendant, and the defendant follows all the rules but breaks the plaintiff’s arm, it can be said that the plaintiff assumes the risk of playing the game of football. As such, the plaintiff cannot recover from their injuries. However, if the plaintiff proves that the defendant did not play by the rules, then they may still be able to recover for their damages.
What Is The Statute Of Limitations For Personal Injury Claims?
Statutes of limitations are laws that require injured parties to file their claims within a certain timeframe or risk not being able to file their claim. If the statute of limitations expires, the injured party may no longer bring a lawsuit regarding their injury. Statutes of limitations are intended to preserve evidence and reduce the likelihood of false claims.
It is important to be aware of the statute of limitations that apply in your state to prevent losing any potential compensation for your injuries. The statute of limitations for different personal injury claims varies from state to state. Because each state has its own laws, you must ensure that you are aware of your own state’s rules.
What Does Failure to State a Claim Mean?
Another personal injury defense is that the plaintiff failed to state a claim in their pleading. In other words, the plaintiff lacks one or more essential elements to prove the defendant is at fault.
For example, if the plaintiff fails to state that the action or inaction of the defendant was the cause of their injuries, then the plaintiff cannot seek to recover damages against that defendant. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant is at fault for their injuries.
What Is a Failure to Mitigate Damages?
As noted above, one of the requirements for personal injury cases is that the plaintiff must attempt to mitigate or reduce their damages. This means that if a doctor gives the plaintiff instructions not to do something, but then they go against the doctor’s orders and further aggravate their injury, then they may lose out on recovering damages altogether.
Do I Need An Attorney for Help With Personal Injury Defenses?
If you are involved in a personal injury claim, consult an experienced and local personal injury lawyer. An experienced personal injury attorney will be aware of your state’s specific personal injury laws and any personal injury defenses that you may be able to assert in your specific case. Additionally, an attorney can also represent you in court, as needed.