In a claim for personal injury, a plaintiff claims that they have sustained an injury, either mental, physical, or both, due to an act or failure to act by the defendant. A court may award the plaintiff money damages for personal injury.
In some cases, the events which form the basis of a personal injury claim may also form the basis of criminal charges. For example, a defendant may face a civil lawsuit for assault as well as a criminal assault and battery charge.
What Kind of Injury Does a Personal Injury Claim Involve?
A personal injury damages a plaintiff’s emotional health, physical health, or both. Mental health injuries include emotional pain and anguish sustained by an accident.
Physical injuries include injuries to organs, limbs, or other parts of the anatomy. The injury sustained by a personal injury plaintiff need not manifest itself instantly, and may develop over time.
There are several types of events or accidents which may form the basis of a personal injury claim, including:
- Accidents and injuries
- Construction accidents;
- Dog bites and animal attacks;
- Defective products (class action);
- Elder abuse;
- Nursing home abuse;
- Premises liability;
- Product liability injury;
- Toxic exposure (class action);
- Unsafe drugs (class action); and
- Wrongful death;
There are numerous types of accidents which may occur. It may be helpful to examine accident statistics to help an individual be more prepared and prevent accidents before they occur.
What Kinds of Acts Form the Basis of a Personal Injury Claim?
A personal injury may occur intentionally, such as when a defendant deliberately injures a victim, or intends to commit an act that results in injury. A personal injury may also occur unintentionally.
If an unintentional injury is the result of someone’s negligence, then a plaintiff may file a lawsuit based on the negligent behavior. Automobile accidents, slip and fall accidents, and injuries sustained from medical malpractice, are all considered to be negligence cases.
What Is an Intentional Injury Claim?
An intentional injury occurs when a defendant’s deliberate act or intent to commit an act injures a plaintiff. Intentional injury occurs when a defendant commits battery, assault, or false imprisonment. A battery is a harmful or offensive contact with another, without their permission.
There are two types of assault. One type is a battery that was not completed. A battery may be incomplete because (among other reasons) someone intervened to stop it.
The other type of assault occurs when a defendant places a plaintiff in an imminent fear of a harmful or offensive contact, such as by making threats to immediately hurt someone. False imprisonment is the forcible restraint of a person, without that person’s consent.
What Is a Personal Injury Claim Based on Negligence?
A negligence personal injury claim is one in which a plaintiff claims that a defendant injured the plaintiff as a result of breaching a duty of care the defendant owed to the plaintiff. If a plaintiff can show that this breach caused injury, then resulting in damages, the plaintiff has made out a claim for negligence.
The duty of care owed to a plaintiff depends on the circumstances. A defendant is under a legal duty to exercise that degree of care an ordinary person would use under a particular set of facts.
For example, if a defendant is driving their vehicle on a highway in non-inclement weather, then the defendant has a duty to follow the motor vehicle laws. Say, though, that the defendant is driving their vehicle on a one-lane road. The weather is stormy and inclement.
The defendant owes a greater duty in this type of situation. The defendant must exercise that degree of care appropriate for inclement weather. Such care includes driving at reduced speed, using windshield wipers, and using headlights and taillights.
Whether a duty of care to a plaintiff exists, depends upon the foreseeability, or predictability, of harm that may result if the duty is not exercised. The test for whether a plaintiff is owed a duty of care can be phrased as a question: Would an average person, in the position of the defendant, foresee that the type of injury sustained by the plaintiff was likely to take place?
If the answer is “yes,” then the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care. If the defendant breaches that duty which causes an injury resulting in damages, then the defendant has committed personal injury through negligence.
If the answer is “no,” then no duty is owed, and the defendant cannot have committed negligence.
Can I Sue for Emotional Distress?
In some cases, an individual may sue for emotional distress, also known as mental anguish. Emotional distress is a non-physical and mostly psychological injury which can be asserted in a civil lawsuit.
The law recognizes that emotional distress is a state of mental suffering which occurs due to an experience that was caused by the negligence or intentional acts of another, typically of a physical nature. A bystander of an individual who personally experiences an emotional trauma, in addition to their relatives may be able to assert a civil lawsuit that alleges emotional distress.
Emotional distress may cause an individual to exhibit:
- Feelings of humiliation or shame;
- Self-destructive thoughts;
- Stress; or
- Other emotional responses which result from a traumatic event.
Can I Sue for Libel, Slander, and Defamation?
Yes, it may be possible for an individual to sue for libel, slander and defamation. Defamation occurs when an individual makes a false and malicious statement about another individual, either through written or spoken words.
Defamation, as an area of law, is intended to remedy a situation in which an individual’s words caused harm to another individual’s livelihood or reputation. Defamation of character is used as an umbrella term for any statement that damages another individual’s reputation.
Libel is written defamation, such as defaming an individual in a book or a newspaper. It may also include visual depictions and published statements which are made on audio, radio, and video.
Slander is spoken defamatory words. It is the oral publication of defamatory remarks which are heard by a third party.
What Types of Damages Can a Judge Award an Injured Plaintiff?
An injured plaintiff who proves that a defendant is liable (who proves the defendant committed intentional or negligent injury) is entitled to compensatory damages. Under the law, a plaintiff can recover two types of damages: damages for an injury, and damages for the consequences of the injury.
The law recognizes this distinction. Under the law, there are two types of compensatory damages, which are known as general damages and specific damages.
General damages are those damages that are awarded for the injury itself. These damages include pain and suffering, and mental anguish and trauma.
General damages cannot be readily assigned a monetary value. Therefore, to recover such damages, the testimony of an expert, such as a physician or psychiatrist, is necessary to assign a monetary value.
Special damages are damages that compensate someone for a specific consequence of an injury. Specific consequences include medical expenses and loss of wages.
These items can be assigned a precise monetary value. A doctor’s bill, for example, lists payment due, while a pay stub, which is a record of a plaintiff’s earnings, can be used to determine the amount of wages lost due to injury.
Special damages will be awarded to compensate the plaintiff for those costs which their insurance or medicare and medicaid did not cover.
Do I Need the Help of a Personal Injury Attorney?
If you have sustained a personal injury through the unlawful act of another, then you should contact a personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury lawyer near you can review the facts of your case, go over your rights and options, and represent you at hearings and in court.