Personal injury law is an area of civil law concerned with providing monetary compensation to victims of accidents or social wrongs. The injured person bringing the lawsuit is called the “plaintiff,” and the person or entity allegedly responsible for the injury is called the “defendant.” In fatal accidents, the family of the decedent may bring a wrongful death suit against the person or entity responsible for the accident.
In some cases, there may be multiple responsible parties, and the plaintiff may be able to sue all of them to recover the full amount of compensation needed for his or her injuries. The defendant in turn may allege that another person or entity was responsible and bring that person or entity into the lawsuit as a cross-defendant.
The burden of proof in personal injury cases is typically lower than the burden of proof for criminal cases arising out of the same actions. This means that you may be able to recover in a personal injury lawsuit, even if the defendant was acquitted of criminal charges arising out of the same conduct. The objective in a personal injury lawsuit is generally to recover monetary compensation, rather than punish the defendant. However, in some cases, punitive damages may be sought and awarded for particularly egregious or malicious misconduct by a defendant.
Elements of Negligence
Personal injury lawsuits may arise out of any situation, most commonly involving motor vehicle accidents, premises liability or professional malpractice. Most injuries are the result of negligent or reckless conduct, rather than intentional conduct. In a negligence case, the plaintiff will need to prove not only that the defendant was negligent, but also that the plaintiff suffered damages as a result. Litigation in negligence cases often centers around both of these aspects of the case, as the defendant will claim that he or she was not negligent, and also that the plaintiff was either not injured or not injured to the extent that is claimed.
Although circumstances can vary, generally speaking, everyone has a duty to use reasonable care to avoid the risk of foreseeable injuries to others. For example, a driver is expected to drive within the speed limit and in an otherwise safe manner. And a business owner or employee who causes or becomes aware of a dangerous condition in its business, such as a wet floor, has a duty to warn customers or to remove the danger so that unwitting customers don’t get injured. Failure to warn of a dangerous condition on property can result in a premises liability lawsuit against the person or entity in control of it.
Similarly, a lawyer has a duty to act as a reasonably prudent lawyer would act under the same circumstances. He or she must order take appropriate steps to represent the interest of his or her clients and exercise reasonable judgment to ensure the best outcomes for his or her clients. A lawyer who fails to satisfy this duty may be liable to the client for damages in a legal malpractice action.
Forms of Compensation for Personal Injury
In most personal injury cases, a plaintiff may recover economic and non-economic compensatory damages, which may include past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages, vocational rehabilitation, household help, out-of-pocket costs, loss of consortium, and pain and suffering. In certain instances in which the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious, a plaintiff may be entitled to recover punitive damages. Punitive damage, when awarded, can be significantly larger than the actual damages sustained by the plaintiff.