Personal Injury Law Basics

Personal injury law covers many different types of civil proceedings. This law allows an aggrieved party to seek monetary compensation for harm caused by the failure of another person to act or to breach a duty owed to them. The victim of the breach is called a plaintiff while the person who caused the injury or damage is called the defendant or tortfeasor. There can be more than one plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit.

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Types of Personal Injury Lawsuits

Personal injury lawsuits can include a myriad of injury claims brought by injured Plaintiffs or their loved ones. The most common claims are as follows:

  • Automobile accidents
  • Medical malpractice claims
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Premise liability
  • Slips and falls
  • Assault and battery
  • Bicycle and motorcycle accidents
  • Wrongful Death

What Laws Apply to Personal Injury Lawsuits?

Personal injury law is a subset of general tort law. Tort law is more broad than only cases involving personal injuries, however, and includes additional cases which deal with intentional acts and strict liability. Personal injury cases derived from the basic ideas of tort law which were adopted from the English common law system. This area of law has evolved over the last several hundred years through legislative enactment and common law jurisprudence. Tort law can impact every aspect of our daily life. Businesses harm customers, people injure one another, or employees are hurt in the workplace. These are just a few of the personal injury claims which allow resolution through the tort system. The goal of tort law is to hold the defendant accountable for his/her actions.

In most cases where there is not some specific federal tort statute, injured Plaintiffs usually base their claims on the particular state’s personal injury laws to assist them in receiving compensation which is why it is so important to speak with a lawyer licensed in that State if you’ve been injured. To be successful in almost any personal injury case, a plaintiff must prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that she was hurt by the negligence of the defendant based on what is required in any individual state law. The Plaintiff must provide evidence that it is more likely than not that the facts support her story and factor in any comparative negligence rules. The facts must show the duty, breach, causation and damages that the plaintiff suffered. Sometimes in proving damages, the plaintiff will often use an expert who is usually a doctor who opines as to the injuries that were caused by the negligence of the defendant.

Damages in Personal Injury Lawsuits

Damages can vary in personal injury cases. 

  • Compensatory damages are meant to replace or restore the plaintiff to pre- accident status. These damages can include medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. 
  • Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for her actions. These types of damages are generally capped and may not be used in all personal injury cases. They are in addition to compensatory damages the plaintiff receives.
  • Nominal damages may be awarded when the plaintiff has been wronged, but she did not suffer a financial loss. These damages are generally very low but are important as they show that the plaintiff was right. In some cases, punitive damages may be allowed. 
  • General damages can be awarded when the loss lacks a quantifiable financial value. They can include pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, diminished mobility, and loss of companionship.

Statute of Limitations

All personal injury claims must be filed within a specified time called the statute of limitations. These statutes vary from state to state. They begin to run at the time of the incident. In medical malpractice cases, they can begin to run when discovered. If not resolved, the claim must be filed in the appropriate court of law. If not timely, the claim can be dismissed.

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