A personal injury claim is something which arises when one individual suffers harm from an accident or injury and someone else is legally responsible for causing that harm. You may have the legal right to be compensated for injuries caused by someone else and you may be able to receive different types of compensation.

How are Personal Injury Claims Resolved?

The two major ways of resolving a personal injury claim are through informal settlement or a formal lawsuit:

  • Informal Settlement: It is quite common for the parties to try to resolve a personal injury case through an informal settlement before considering filing a lawsuit. An informal settlement involves the parties affected by the dispute, their insurers as well as attorneys representing both sides. 
    • Most personal injury cases are resolved through informal early settlement. A settlement typically involves some type of negotiation as well as a written agreement which states that both parties will forgo any action such as a lawsuit and will rather resolve the issue through paying an agreeable amount of money.
  • Formal Lawsuit: A typical personal injury case starts when a private individual files a civil complaint against another individual, business, corporation or government agency which alleges that they caused the accident or injury by acting carelessly or irresponsibly. 
    • It is important to note that plaintiffs have a limited time to file a lawsuit because of statute of limitations. Typically, the period of time established by the statute of limitations begins when the plaintiff is injured or discovers the injury. The statute of limitations vary depending on the state and they also often vary by the type of injury.

Many personal injury claims are resolved by writing a demand letter and informing them of your intent to file suit, but still giving them a chance to remedy the situation. Out of the total number of personal injury claims, many are settled before they get to the courtroom (an estimated 1 in 20 are settled).

What is Negligence?

For most personal injury cases which arise from accidents and injuries, an individual or organization is held responsible based on the theory of “negligence”.

This legal principle can apply whenever an individual or organization acts in a careless way which in turn causes harm or injury to someone else. In order to have a successful negligence claim against the defendant, the plaintiff has to prove the following four elements:

  • Duty of Care: This means that under the circumstances, the defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff. The duty of care can be based on different factors such as the type of situation or relationship. For example, when operating a motor vehicle, the individual is expected to operate it safely and exercise a certain level of due care so that there is no harm or injury to other individuals. Similarly, the relationship between a doctor and patient creates a legal duty to provide the patient with competent medical care.
  • Breach of that Duty: This means that the defendant breached their legal duty by acting or not acting in a certain way. To determine whether the defendant breached their duty, the “reasonably prudent person” standard is used which represents how an average individual would responsibly act in a given situation. If the average individual would have acted differently than the defendant to avoid causing harm, then the defendant may be found liable.
  • Causation, Defendant’s Breach Caused the Injury: This means that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s injuries. An important element in causation is to determine whether it was “foreseeable” or reasonably likely that the defendant’s actions would cause the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • Damages, Plaintiff is Injured: This is the last element of a negligence case and it requires that the plaintiff be compensated for the injuries, usually through monetary compensation.

Each element must exist in order to establish a personal injury claim. While there is also an area of law called “intentional torts” which covers personal injury cases like battery and assault. The above applies to situations like car accidents, medical malpractice, and other more common types of personal injury claims.

What Can You Recover for Your Injuries?

The plaintiff can recover for different types of losses such as:

  • Economic Losses: This includes lost wages because of the loss of ability to function at work as well as medical bills because of the injury.
  • Pain and Suffering: This includes any serious and ongoing pain or discomfort that the individual is experiencing because of the injuries.
    • This can be difficult to calculate, as it means the plaintiff needs to put a dollar amount on their suffering.
  • Emotional Distress: If an accident leads to a major psychological impact, the plaintiff can recover for the emotional harm which they sustained.
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life: If your injuries are preventing you from experiencing life as you did previously, then you can include loss of enjoyment of life as a part of your claim.
  • Property Loss: If the accident led to any loss to your personal property or real property such as land, then you may be entitled to be reimbursed for the amount of loss that was sustained.

Keep in mind that the different types of losses require, for the most part, a concrete example of the damages. Like emotional distress can be calculated if the individual needs to go therapy (cost of therapist) or requires treatment due to the trauma.

So, comparatively, loss of enjoyment of life is harder to prove than property loss or economic loss. It’s important that are you able to put a dollar amount on damages, and you’ll need to be able to break down the reasoning for the amount. While the court can change the final amount, if you don’t request the damages then the court will not grant them.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you or someone you know has been injured because of someone else’s actions, it is important to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney who can advocate for your rights and help you recover damages for your injuries.