A personal injury lawsuit is a civil action brought by an injured person against the person or entity responsible for their injuries. The purpose of the lawsuit is to recover financial compensation for the losses suffered because of the accident, including medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.
In order to win a personal injury lawsuit, you must be able to prove that the defendant is liable for your injuries. This means showing that they were negligent or otherwise at fault for the accident. Once liability has been established, the court will then determine how much money you may receive in damages if you don’t settle beforehand.
Types of Personal Injury Lawsuits
There are many different types of personal injury lawsuits, but some of the most common include:
The type of personal injury lawsuit you file will depend on the specific facts of your case. For example, if you were injured in a car accident, you would file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver. If you were injured by a defective product, you may file a product liability claim against the manufacturer.
What Should You Do After an Accident or Injury?
There are several important steps to take. Above all, you want to make sure that you and others are safe and that injuries are promptly addressed.
- Seek medical attention. Even if your injuries seem minor, it’s important to get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible. If your injuries are serious, emergency medical personnel may treat you at the accident scene or take you to the hospital for further evaluation. Do not refuse their help.
- Take pictures and video. There is often no better evidence of how your accident happened than pictures and video. Get shots of the entire accident scene, your injuries and any vehicles or equipment involved.
- Gather information. Get the names and contact information of any witnesses. If you are in a car accident, get the name and insurance information of the at-fault party. If you have a camera or smartphone, you can also take pictures of their driver’s license and insurance card.
- Preserve evidence. Obtain medical records from your treatment immediately after the accident and ongoing care. Keep records of any insurance correspondence you receive as well.
- Keep a personal injury journal. Sometimes the best evidence of your injuries and how they affect your life comes from your own words. Every day, write in your journal and describe your pain levels, the activities you could or could not do, and how your injuries affect your mental state.
Determining Fault in Personal Injury Lawsuit Cases
In any personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is liable for their injuries. This means showing that they were negligent or otherwise at fault for the accident. You can establish liability in several ways, but the most common is by proving negligence.
Negligence is failing to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. In other words, the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would have in the same situation. To prove negligence, you must show:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care
- They breached that duty
- Their breach caused your injuries
The key question in any personal injury case is whether the defendant was negligent. This is often a difficult question to answer and depends on the specific facts of the case. For example, if you were injured in a car accident, was the defendant speeding or driving recklessly? If you were injured by a defective product, was the product defectively designed or manufactured? These are just some questions a court will consider when determining liability.
Intervening and Superseding Causes
In some personal injury cases, the defendant may try to argue that another party or event was responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. This is known as an intervening or superseding cause.
- Intervening cause. An event that breaks the causal chain between the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, if the plaintiff was hit by a car while walking across the street, but then got up and walked away without seeking medical attention, the driver could argue that the intervening cause of the plaintiff’s injuries was their own failure to seek medical attention.
- Superseding cause. An event that supersedes the defendant’s negligence and becomes the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, if the plaintiff was hit by a car while walking across the street, but then got up and was struck by a lightning bolt, the driver could argue that the superseding cause of the plaintiff’s injuries was the lightning bolt and not their own negligence.
When Two or More People Are at Fault
In some personal injury cases, there is more than one defendant. This can happen when two or more people are negligent, and their negligence contributes to the plaintiff’s injuries.
Chain reaction car accidents are a common example of this. If Driver B is going too fast and cannot stop in time, hitting Driver A, they are at fault. But if Driver C is also going to fast and plows into Driver B, causing B’s car to hit car A again, causing further injuries to the driver, both Driver B and Driver C might be at fault. In this situation, a percent of fault is assigned to all the negligent parties.
Under respondeat superior, an employer can be held liable for the negligence of their employees if that negligence occurred while the employee was working within the scope of their employment. For example, if you were injured in a car accident caused by a delivery driver who was making deliveries for their employer at the time of the accident, you could sue both the driver and their employer.
However, there are some exceptions to respondeat superior. An employer will not be held liable if the employee was not acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the accident. For example, if a delivery driver caused a car accident while they were off duty, the employer would not be liable for the accident, even if the driver was in a company vehicle.
When You Are Partly at Fault
There are two approaches to a situation when a plaintiff bears some of the fault for an accident. Each state has its own laws about this.
- Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine that says a plaintiff can’t recover damages if they are partially responsible for their own injuries. For example, if you are hit by a car while walking across the street, but you were also crossing the street illegally, the court may find that you are contributorily negligent and completely bar you from any recovery.
- Comparative negligence is a legal doctrine that says the financial recovery for an injured person is reduced by their share of fault in the accident. For example, if you are hit by a car while walking across the street, and the court finds that you are 30 percent responsible for the accident, your financial recovery will be reduced by 30 percent. Modified comparative negligence is an approach that says the plaintiff cannot collect unless they are less than 50% responsible for the accident.
Last Clear Chance
The last clear chance doctrine is an exception to contributory negligence. It says that even if the plaintiff is partially at fault for their own injuries, they can still recover damages if the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the accident and failed to do so.
For example, if you are hit by a car while walking across the street, but the court finds that you are 50 percent responsible for the accident, you can still recover damages from the driver if they had the last clear chance to avoid the accident by slamming on the brakes or swerving out of your way but failed to do so.
How to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Every personal injury case follows the same process, though at any stage, even before filing a complaint, the two sides can agree to a settlement.
- Filing a Complaint. To begin a personal injury lawsuit, you file a complaint with the court. This document will outline your allegations against the defendant, as well as damages that you are seeking. The complaint will also include a summons, which is a document that notifies the defendant of the lawsuit and requires them to respond in a certain amount of time.
- Serving the Defendant. You’ll need to have the complaint and summons served on the defendant. Depending on where you live, service may require hiring a process server or paying to have a sheriff or constable deliver the complaint to the defendant.
- Defendant’s Answer. After the complaint is filed, the defendant will likely file a response. This document will either deny the allegations made in the complaint or admit to some of them. The response will also include defenses that the defendant plans to use in court.
- The Discovery Process. After the response is filed, both sides will begin exchanging documents known as discovery. During discovery, each side will request information from the other side, including witness statements, medical records, and financial documents. This process can take many months or even years, depending on the complexities of the case.
If both sides cannot settle during discovery, they will then attend settlement conferences where they attempt to come to an agreement. Some jurisdictions may also require mediation or arbitration. If these conferences fail, the case will then go to trial.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a law that says how long you have to file a personal injury lawsuit after an accident. The time limit usually starts from the day of the accident. For example, you might have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit if you were injured in a car accident. In other types of injuries, the clock might start running when you realize you were hurt or should have realized you were hurt, such as if you were injured by a drug you were taking.
Which Laws Govern Personal Injury Lawsuits?
Personal injury lawsuits are governed by several laws including statutes of limitations and state negligence laws. Beyond that, however, most personal injury law actually comes from prior cases. This is because most jurisdictions follow common law derived from cases, not statutes.
The vast majority of personal injury cases settle out of court. These settlements often occur with the negligent party’s insurance company taking the lead—they’re the one footing the bill in most cases, anyway.
When you sue someone, it’s unlikely that any compensation you get will come directly from them. Whether you were injured in a car accident or a costly medical malpractice issue, the insurance company covering the at-fault party is most likely the one you’ll receive a settlement from.
How Much Is a Personal Injury Lawsuit Worth?
There’s a joke that most law school students hear early on: the answer to every legal question is “it depends.” When it comes to figuring out the value of a personal injury lawsuit, unfortunately, the old law school joke holds true.
Typical Settlement Amounts
Every personal injury lawsuit has different factors which make it nearly impossible to determine with any precision how much a specific personal injury settlement will be worth. Because settlement amounts can vary based on every factor involved in a case, it can be difficult to predict a case’s value.
A study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2005 found that:
- Half of all plaintiffs received $24,000 or less.
- The median amount awarded in auto accident cases was $16,000.
- The median award in premises liability cases — cases involving injuries sustained due to the condition of the property — was $90,000.
- The median payout for product liability cases — cases involving flawed products like faulty brakes or dangerously designed toys — was $748,000.
- The median award was $31,000 for all cases studied.
Keep in mind, however, that this study was from nearly 20 years ago. The study also found that the average success rate for plaintiffs was only about 50%, making it entirely possible that a plaintiff wouldn’t get any settlement or other payment at all.
Types of Damages Available
There are different types of damages that courts and juries consider in personal injury cases.
- Economic damages are the financial losses you’ve experienced because of the accident and your injuries. These can include medical bills, lost wages, property damage and more.
- Noneconomic damages are more difficult to quantify than economic damages because they do not have a direct monetary value. These can include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life and more.
Pain and suffering is one of the most common types of noneconomic damages personal injury victims seek. It’s the physical and emotional anguish you experience because of your injuries. This can include physical pain, mental suffering, disability, disfigurement and more.
These damages are difficult to determine because there’s no inherent dollar value associated with them. But they can often provide injured people with substantial financial recovery to help them get through a traumatic injury and recovery process. An attorney can provide an estimate of what you could expect to recover based on similar cases.
What Factors Impact Case Value?
Factors that contribute to a settlement figure include:
- The severity of the injuries
- How much the injuries impact the plaintiff
- Cost and time to treat injuries and recover
- The emotional and psychological damage from the injuries
- The cost of the lawsuit itself
Do I Need an Attorney?
An attorney is not always necessary in a personal injury case. If the accident was relatively minor and your injuries required little medical care, you may not need to hire an attorney. However, it is recommended you ask the good guys at Injury Smart Law for a free consultation so you can be better informed moving forward. In minor accidents, insurance companies can be quick to offer a fair settlement to cover your expenses—Injury Smart Law can make sure all your expenses are covered.
However, if the accident was more serious or you are unsure of what to do, it is always best to consult with an attorney who specializes in personal injury law. An experienced personal injury lawyer will know the ins and outs of the legal system and can help you file a lawsuit, negotiate a settlement, and represent you in court if needed.
Get your questions answered during a free consultation with Injury Smart Law. Call Today.