Personal Injury Law
Most of us have seen ads for personal injury attorneys. Featured smiling on billboards and ubiquitous TV commercials, personal injury lawyers tend to be highly visible. From car accidents to slip-and-falls, personal injury cases occur every day in America. But there are different types of personal injury lawsuits and different legal strategies used when attempting to hold someone accountable for your injuries.
What Is Personal Injury Law?
Personal injury law is the legal avenue for an injured person (the plaintiff) to file a complaint against the accused (the defendant) seeking monetary compensation for his or her losses caused by the injury.
Personal injury cases involve torts (civil wrongs that result in injury or harm) and can be divided into three general groups:
- Torts involving negligence - when someone acts carelessly (like many car accidents);
- Intentional torts - done on purpose (such as a punch in the face);
- Strict liability torts - liability imposed regardless of fault (such as inherently dangerous activities)
A plaintiff in a civil action typically must prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence (in other words, it was more likely than not that the defendant caused the harm or is at fault). This is considerably easier to prove than what's required in criminal cases (that is, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt).
Torts Involving Negligence - Carelessly Causing Harm
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, to protect the plaintiff against injuries;
- The defendant failed to act reasonably under a given set of circumstances;
- This failure actually caused the plaintiff's injury;
- The plaintiff suffered actual harm due to defendant's breaching the duty of care.
Note that negligence doesn't require that a defendant intended to cause harm, but that the defendant did not act how a reasonable person would have in the same circumstances. A common negligence defense is that no duty of reasonable care existed, or that something else -- like the plaintiff's own actions -- led to the injury.
Intentional Torts - Causing Harm on Purpose
Unlike negligence cases, a plaintiff alleging an intentional tort must show that the defendant intended for harm to occur. Some examples of intentional torts include battery, assault, false imprisonment, trespass, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
While some of these torts may also be prosecuted under criminal law, civil statutes allow private parties to sue for them as well. A good example is the O.J. Simpson civil case. While Simpson was acquitted in the highly-publicized criminal case, he was liable for civil damages when he was sued in civil court.
Strict Liability Torts: At Fault Regardless of Intent or Carelessness
There are a few types of torts in which defendants may be held responsible if an injury occurs, even if they did not act negligently or intentionally. Strict liability cases usually involve highly dangerous products or activities, such as storing hazardous substances or demolishing buildings. It also includes employers who are held liable for the negligent or wrongful actions of their employees. In some states, dog owners can also be held strictly liable for their pet's actions if their pet injures someone.
What Kinds of Compensation Can I Get After an Injury?
Most personal injury cases seek monetary compensation. Economic damages are meant to cover financial losses such as medical expenses, lost income, etc. Non-economic damages include compensation for pain and suffering and the loss of companionship.
In some (often egregious) circumstances, the law may allow for the recovery of punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish a losing party for willful or malicious misconduct. Sometimes called exemplary damages, punitive damages are an added punishment meant to discourage defendants from future wrongdoing.
An important part of the personal injury lawsuit process is the settlement negotiations that occur between the attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant. These negotiations are crucial as many personal injury defendants would rather settle a case than go to trial.
Injured and Overwhelmed? Receive a Free Case Review from a Personal Injury Attorney
If you've been injured or harmed, you don't have to suffer in silence. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you pursue your legal options. These attorneys file civil complaints based on the correct legal theory, gather evidence, and negotiate with opposing counsel, defendants and/or insurance companies. Receive a free case evaluation from an experienced personal injury attorney to begin exploring your options for compensation after an injury.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.
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State Personal Injury Articles
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina