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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.
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:
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).
Many personal injury lawsuits involve allegations of negligence. In a typical negligence case, the plaintiff must prove that:
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.
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.
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. Typically, strict liability cases 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.
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.
Injuries cost money, including time away from work, medical bills and other complications. You should have an attorney help you with your claim. Not sure if you have a good injury case? Speak to a local personal injury attorney about the merits of your case. This one step can help you protect your rights and take the proper next steps.