We’ve all seen advertisements for personal injury lawyers, and you probably have an idea of the type of work those lawyers do—they help people who have suffered injuries get compensation. However, personal injury law is a little more complicated than that.
One important thing to note is that personal injury law does not deal with criminal law. 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.
It is also important to know that a personal injury action may be one of three types. The first is called an intentional tort, the second is negligence, and the third is strict liability. Each of these types of personal injury laws has a set of elements that must be proven in order for the injured person to win their case. We will explore each of these in further detail below.
What are the Elements Required to Prove an Intentional Tort?
An intentional tort is a tort committed against another person with purpose. However it may also be simple awareness of the results of your action. The wrong action may be committed against a person, but can also be done to property. The following elements must be proven to establish that an intentional tort was committed:
- Intention: As mentioned above, the person being sued (the defendant) must be shown to have either intentionally committed the tort, or to have been aware that their action would cause the tort/injury. A “reasonable person” standard is used to determine intention. Would a reasonable person expect their action to cause harm?
- Causation: The defendant’s action must be directly responsible for causing the injury. Often this is established by the person who was injured (the plaintiff) by showing that they would not have suffered the injury, but for the defendant’s actions.
- Damages: The actual injury must be shown, and, to some extent, quantified. The court will be interested in the nature of an injury and the expenses it has caused the injured person to incur. If the damage is to property, the court will want details of the financial burden this has created to the property owner.
What is Negligence in Personal Injury?
Often, the tort of personal injury is not committed with the intent to impact the other person. It may occur as the result of the defendant’s negligent behavior. The following must be established in order to prove negligence:
- Duty: Did the defendant possess a duty to watch out for the plaintiff’s safety? For example, a doctor has a duty connected to their professional responsibilities to care for their patient. The nature of the duty may arise out of similar professional standards, but there is also a “standard of reasonable care” that members of society owe to one another.
- The most obvious example here may be that all drivers have the responsibility to not drive in such a way that they bring, or could bring, harm to other drivers and pedestrians. Without a duty, there can be no liability, thus, no negligence.
- Breach of Duty: Once duty is established, the plaintiff must show that the duty was breached. The doctor didn’t perform with reasonable care their duty to their patient, or the driver did not drive in a reasonably safe manner.
- Causation: Once again, causation must be shown. Simply being in a car 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 actually caused their injuries.
- This means no other intervening actions must have caused the injuries (for instance, a biker you both swerved to avoid, because in that situation it’s possible to hold the biker accountable).
- Damages: You cannot collect damages under this type of action simply because someone hit your car with theirs, if there is no injury to you, or damage to your car. Actual injury, or “damages,” must be shown.
What is Strict Liability in Personal Injury?
There is a third type of action which a personal injury case may be classified. This is the strict liability case. These are specialized cases, which usually apply to business owners and/or manufacturers, who have a responsibility for making sure their products are safe for consumers. When injury occurs in such a case, the defendant will be responsible automatically. It doesn’t matter if they had intent or were negligent. However, there are some rules that apply:
- Specific Activity: Strict liability is used only in certain cases. Some of these types of cases include:
- An owner of a wild animal allowing it to cause injury to others;
- A pet owner having a pet that is known (either that pet specifically, or because it’s a certain breed) for attacking people;
- A manufacturer marketing defective products that cause injury to consumers; and
- Not having proper warning labels on consumer products.
- Causation: Must still be shown in a strict liability case. The plaintiff will need to show that a reasonable person should have realized the potential for injury and would have acted accordingly to avoid it.
- Damages: An actual injury must be shown. A product that simply doesn’t work won’t allow you to recover damages in a strict liability case. Instead, the product must have injured you in some way (physically, mentally, or economically) and in a way that can be compensated.
What is the Statute of Limitations in Personal Injury?
In each of the three types of actions listed above, statutes of limitation will apply. These are laws which require injured persons to file their claims within a certain amount of time. If the time period expires, then they may no longer bring a lawsuit over the injury.
It’s important to know the statute of limitations that apply to your case, to keep you from losing any potential compensation for your injuries. However, statute of limitations for different kinds of personal injury claims can vary from state to state. Each state will have their own rules, either written in their state law or in their common law, and you must make sure that you know the rules of your state.
Do You Need a Lawyer for a Personal Injury Claim?
If you have been injured, and believe you have a claim, you should contact a personal injury attorney in your area. They can help evaluate your case and determine a course of action.