Personal injury law protects those who are injured by the negligent acts of another individual or party. Learn more about common personal injury practice areas.
There are many areas of personal injury law that attorneys can focus on; this can make it difficult for those who are trying to find the right lawyer to represent them for a specific type of case. For example, a personal injury attorney may not be best suited to represent an individual in a divorce or murder case. Learn more about who and what personal injury law protects.
Who Is Protected by Personal Injury Law?
Personal injury is an area of law that protects individuals from injury that results from another person or party's negligence, malpractice, or intentional act of wrongdoing. This can include:
- A driver and/or passenger's of a vehicle that is sideswiped because another driver failed to obey a stop sign
- A child injured as a result of an insufficiently designed car seat
- A person's whose property (home or vehicle) is damaged by another person's car
Requirements for Filing a Lawsuit
There are several minimum requirements that an injured person must meet to file a personal injury lawsuit. These include:
- The plaintiff must file the personal injury lawsuit within your state’s statute of limitations.
- The claim must be valid and able to be settled through the legal process. That is, the grievance must be reasonable, and the plaintiff must prove that:
- He or she has been injured. This can be a physical or emotional injury.
- Someone else (the defendant) caused, and is at fault for, the injury (fully or partially, depending on your state’s liability laws). This can be because of the defendant’s negligence or because of an intentional or unintentional action.
- He or she suffered a monetary loss because of the injury.
If you are considering filing a personal injury lawsuit, consider first whether your chance of winning is worth the cost. Not every injury constitutes a personal injury case, and not every personal injury lawsuit results in damages. It may take years to come to a settlement, during which time you may lose wages while having to pay attorney fees and court expenses.
What Is Protected by Personal Injury Law?
When most people think of personal injury, things like broken bones, lacerations, and soft-tissue damage are usually what come to mind. But there are many different types of personal injury that may or may not involve bodily damage. Injury can be classified into four groups: physical, financial, intentional, and injury to reputation. A personal injury lawsuit may involve one or more of these categories.
Physical or Bodily Injury
Physical or bodily injury is what is most commonly associated with the term “personal injury” and includes all types of illness, disability, or bodily damage that is caused or exacerbated by another party’s negligence. The majority of personal injury cases involve some type of minor to catastrophic injury.
Many cases of physical injury involve some degree of financial injury as well, such as significant medical bills or a loss of income due to inability to work. However, it is also entirely possible, although less common, for financial injury to be sustained without physical injury. If a person’s economic stability is threatened or property is significantly devalued due to another party’s negligence, financial injury has taken place.
Injury to Reputation
Damage to a person’s reputation can have a substantial impact on emotional and financial wellbeing. Cases of defamation or slander fall into this category of personal injury.
Most personal injury cases involve negligence, which is defined as a failure to fulfill a responsibility that results in harm to others. In some cases however, the harm is done intentionally, or as a result of such gross negligence that it can actually be considered intentional.
Benefits of Hiring an Attorney
Hiring an experienced personal injury attorney has many benefits. He or she will:
- Determine whether or not you have a case. A person injured because of another’s actions or negligence is likely to have a personal injury case. However, the circumstances of your accident may detract from a victim’s case. An attorney will know what to look for to determine whether you have a case.
- Help you meet the statute of limitations. Each state has a time limit in which personal injury victims must press charges. A personal injury attorney in your area will help you meet this deadline.
- Pursue compensation for your injuries. You may be eligible for damages for your physical injuries and, potentially, for emotional suffering. Personal injury attorneys will pursue recompense in every area possible. Moreover, people who hire a lawyer are generally more likely to attain a sizable settlement than victims who represent themselves.
- Hold the appropriate parties responsible. The defendant’s attorney and insurance company will make every attempt to evade fault for your injuries. An experienced personal injury attorney is familiar with these techniques and will work to prevent the defense from prevailing.
Statute of Limitations
Each state has its own statute of limitations, and you may have one year, two years, or more, depending on the state in which you live. Contact an attorney as soon as possible, since personal injury attorneys remain abreast of their state’s statute of limitations.
The Type of Injury
Age of the Parties Involved
Depending on state law and on the type of injury, if a minor is injured, the countdown for pressing charges typically does not begin until he or she turns 18. On the other hand, medical malpractice may have a shorter time limit if a minor is involved.
Injury Claims against the Government
Persons filing a claim against a federal, state, or local government entity or employee or affiliate must notify the government that charges are being filed (the notice of claim) within as few as 60 days of the injury.
When the Injury was Discovered
For most personal injury claims, the time limit for pressing charges starts on the day of the event that caused the injury. Alternatively, under the “discovery of harm” rule, the statute of limitations begins when the injured became (or should have reasonably become) aware of the injury and its cause.
Fault: Factors in Determining Liability
The degree to which a defendant is held responsible for a plaintiff’s injury depends on several factors, including:
- Strict liability. Under the legal doctrine of strict liability, a defendant can be held responsible for damages caused by his actions or negligence, regardless of whether the accident or injury was his “fault”.
- The defendant’s knowledge, experience, and background. For example, in an emergency situation, a doctor who gives first aid would be held responsible for a higher level of care than a layperson performing the same action.
- Whether the defendant is solely responsible for the injury. In situations where two or more parties (including the injured) caused an injury, comparative negligence applies, and each party can be held partially responsible.
- Whether the defendant’s actions directly caused the accident. A defendant can be held liable if he is an injury’s proximate cause (his actions directly caused the injury). However, if he is the intervening cause (his action set off a chain of events that eventually resulted in injury), he can be dismissed from responsibility.
- The location and circumstances of the accident. Depending on where and how the accident occurred, product, premises, and liquor liability, slip-and-fall, dog bite, and medical malpractice injury, and other laws may affect a defendant’s liability.
Damages: What is compensated?
The type and amount of damages awarded depends on the victim’s injuries, the circumstances of the accident, and how the case is settled. While the victim is obligated to attempt to minimize losses caused by the injury, he or she may pursue economic compensation and, in some cases, punitive damages to cover:
- Monetary losses, including:
- Future medical expenses
- Present cash value (current value of projected future earnings)
- Lost wages
- Medical expenses
- Household services (the cost of hiring someone to maintain the plaintiff’s house during recovery)
- Physical and mental pain, including:
- Mental anguish
- Loss of consortium (loss of the benefits of a relationship because of the accident or injury)
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Pain and suffering
- Permanent disability
Obtaining a Settlement
Personal injury cases are settled either in a formal lawsuit or, more commonly, through an informal settlement (a negotiation between the plaintiff and defendant). When the verdict or negotiation is reached, the compensation will be awarded. Typically, minor to moderate injury cases are compensated with a lump sum payment, while more severe injury cases are often settled with a structured settlement.
Benefits of Structured Settlements
Structured settlements have several benefits over lump sum payments, including:
- Tax-free income. Structured settlements are often in the form of annuities or U.S. Treasure Securities, which are not taxed at the state or federal level.
- Long-term payment. The payment is made in installments over time, so the injured receives an income for several years to a lifetime.
- Flexibility. Often the injured can schedule the payments to best suit his or her needs.
Learn about well-known personal injury settlements.
Common Causes of Personal Injury
Personal injury is a broad area of law the covers a range of practice areas. Finding an attorney who is well-versed in specific personal injury practice areas may boost your chances of obtaining a favorable award.
Dog bites and other animal attacks make up a large percentage of personal injury lawsuits. Depending on the state in which you live and the circumstances surrounding the incident, you may be entitled to significant compensation for any injuries that you incurred.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
As the number of vehicles on U.S. roadways increase, so do the number of auto accidents that occur. Individuals who are injured as a result of a motor vehicle accident may be eligible for damages for injuries or property damage incurred. It is important to consult a lawyer if you or a loved one has been injured in a:
- Car accident
- Motorcycle accident
- Truck accident
- Pedestrian accident
- Bike accident
- Personal watercraft accident
Mass Transit Accidents
Mass transit accidents can be catastrophic for those involved; in many cases, multiple passengers are injured or killed in these events. Mass transit personal injury cases may be filed as class action lawsuits or individual cases.
Premises liability cases can be filed when an individual suffers injuries that should have been prevented while on another's property. The most common type of premises liability lawsuits involve slip and fall accidents; these refer to instances in which an individual suffers injuries from a fall that was caused by a slippery floor, dangerous stair steps, or uneven sidewalks.
Although the words "slip-and-fall" may bring to mind a wet floor, this term actually encompasses all type of premises liability cases. When poorly maintained grounds or buildings, improperly stacked items, or other unmarked hazards result in injury, the party responsible for the premises can be held accountable to the injured person.
When a designer, manufacturer, distributor, wholesaler, or retailer sells products to consumers, it is their responsibility to ensure that the product is safe for public use. Unfortunately, defective products still make it to the market. Consult a lawyer if you or a loved one has been injured as the result of product liability.
Companies that produce prescription drugs are required to perform rigorous testing to ensure that the drugs they sell are not only effective but also reasonably safe. If a drug company fails to test their product thoroughly or neglects to inform consumers about all of the drug's potential side effects, they can be held liable for injuries sustained by their consumers.
Workplace injuries and deaths occur in more dangerous jobs such as the construction, truck driving, mining, shipyard, and oil industries. However, those who work in the corporate world may also suffer from repetitive motion injuries. Victims or the family of victims who have suffered job-site injuries or death may be entitled to compensation for loss of work, medical expenses, and personal bills.
Medical malpractice refers to any medical mistake made by a doctor or another medical professional, that leads to personal injury or wrongful death. It can be the result of negligence on the part of the doctor, nurse, hospital, or other medical staff. Examples of medical malpractice cases include birth injury and nursing home negligence lawsuits.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that became a popular material in the construction industry due to its durability, heat resistance, and chemical inertness. However, asbestos fibers are now known to be harmful if inhaled. Exposure to the material was associated to certain cancers and its use was banned by the 1970s. Asbestos exposure has since been linked to mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.
Class Action Lawsuits
If a dangerous product or catastrophic event injures or kills multiple victims, a class action lawsuit can be filed. Instead of each victim filing an individual lawsuit, one case will be filed and represented by an attorney or law firm. The suit is filed against the deemed responsible party in an effort to obtain restitution on behalf of all victims.
Consult a Personal Injury Attorney
If you or a loved on has suffered injury or death as a result of another person's malpractice, negligence, or reckless actions, you may be eligible for damages under personal injury law. Contact a personal injury attorney for a case review to find out whether you have a viable case.