Personal injury and negligence are not the same thing, but they are elements of one legal concept. If you recently suffered harm because of someone else’s action or inaction, you may have a valid personal injury claim for compensation under civil law. That often means you must provide evidence to prove the other party’s negligence. Understanding the nuances of these laws and how they apply to your incident is the first step.
What Is a Personal Injury?
Under civil law, a personal injury refers to harm or damage an individual suffers, affecting their body, mind or emotions. This is distinct from property damage. It typically arises due to someone else’s negligence, recklessness or intentional actions. The concept is central to tort law, where the injured party can seek compensation for their losses through legal proceedings.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
Auto accidents are the most common among the many types of personal injury cases. These involve injuries resulting from vehicle collisions, including cars, commercial trucks, motorcycles and bicycles. These cases often hinge on proving the other party’s negligence, such as distracted driving or violating traffic laws. Other common types of personal injury claims involve:
- Medical malpractice. This occurs when a healthcare professional deviates from standard practices, leading to patient harm. Examples include surgical errors, misdiagnosis and improper medication administration.
- Slip-and-fall accidents. Common on public or private properties, these incidents involve injuries due to unsafe conditions like wet floors, poor lighting or uneven surfaces. Property owners’ failure to ensure safety can be grounds for a claim.
- Workplace accidents. These include injuries sustained at work due to unsafe working conditions, inadequate training or equipment failure. Workers’ compensation laws play a vital role in these cases.
- Product liability. Injuries resulting from defective or unsafe products fall under this category. It can involve anything from household appliances to medical devices, for which the manufacturer or distributor may be liable.
- Dog bites. Injuries from animal attacks can lead to claims against the pet owner. The liability often depends on local laws regarding animal ownership and responsibility.
Each case requires a unique approach, considering the specific legal standards and evidence needed. However, all involve negligence. The goal is establishing liability and securing fair compensation for the injured party’s losses.
What Are the Requirements for Proving Negligence?
Negligence is a fundamental concept in tort law, requiring the plaintiff to prove four elements to establish the defendant’s liability. These elements include:
- Duty of care. This refers to the legal obligation to exercise a level of care towards others to prevent harm. For example, a driver has a duty to follow traffic laws and drive safely to avoid causing accidents.
- Breach of duty. A breach occurs when someone fails to meet their duty of care. Using the previous example, a driver running a red light breached their duty of care.
- Causation. This element links the breach of duty directly to the harm suffered and must show that the breach directly caused the plaintiff’s injuries and losses. For instance, if a negligent driver hits a pedestrian after running a red light, there is a direct link between the pedestrian’s injuries and the driver’s actions.
- Damages. The plaintiff must prove that they suffered actual harm or losses, which can be physical, emotional or financial.
The burden of proof in civil court is “by a preponderance of evidence.” This means you, the plaintiff, must prove that the defendant was more likely than not responsible for the accident, injuries and resulting damages. This is often where having a personal injury attorney is critical.
Damages You Can Recover
The court uses the term compensatory damages to refer to the economic and non-economic losses associated with your case. While every case is unique, some common types of recoverable losses among the different personal injury claims include:
- The cost of medical care, including hospital stays, doctor visits, medical devices, medications, surgeries, emergency medical services and ongoing treatment, such as rehabilitation
- The loss of wages you would otherwise earn, including the loss of earning capacity from suffering a disability
- Any out-of-pocket expenses or replacement services needed during recovery, such as childcare or household help
- The physical pain and suffering endured from your injuries and medical treatment
- The emotional distress and mental anguish often manifested as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress
As the plaintiff, you are also responsible for providing the evidence necessary to prove your damages. The non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, are intangible and more complex to calculate, especially if you do not have experience.
What if You Are Both at Fault?
Fault does not always definitively fall to one side in a personal injury claim. For example, both parties can contribute to the outcome of an auto accident by breaching their duty of care. However, in many states, sharing fault does not automatically render you ineligible for compensation. Most states apply the comparative fault rule’s modified or pure versions.
Comparative fault law states that a plaintiff can still recover a portion of the total damages equal to the defendant’s percentage of fault. In a pure comparative negligence state, you can be as much as 99% responsible for the accident and still receive 1% of the total compensation. However, in a modified comparative negligence state, you cannot be more liable for the accident than the defendant.
For example, South Carolina applies the modified comparative negligence rule to personal injury claims involving shared fault. In this state, you can receive a portion of compensation as long as the defendant is at least 51% at fault. In practice, assume the court values your losses at $100,000 and finds you 40% at fault. You can still recover $60,000. However, if the court finds you 52% at fault, you would no longer be eligible for damages.
How Can a Personal Injury Attorney Help?
A personal injury lawyer plays an essential role in navigating the complexities of a claim. They offer specialized knowledge and experience for victims and their families and provide many advantages in pursuing a claim:
- They possess an in-depth understanding of legal processes, ensuring proper filing of claims and adherence to statutory limitations.
- They have experience negotiating with insurance companies and securing fair settlements, often achieving better outcomes than individuals dealing independently.
- If a case goes to trial, they will handle all litigation and present your case effectively to a jury.
- They provide an objective viewpoint, helping you make decisions unclouded by the stress and emotional trauma of your injuries.
- They often work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they will not receive payment for their services unless they win the case.
Hiring a personal injury lawyer can significantly enhance the chances of a successful claim. Their expertise is invaluable, but they also offer the emotional support victims need during this challenging time of high stakes and extensive legal nuance.
Are You Ready To Speak With an Experienced Lawyer?
In the aftermath of a devastating accident, you may have questions about what you can do to recover compensation for your financial, physical and emotional losses. The legal team at Jeff Coat Injury Law can help. We understand the struggles personal injury victims and their families face and will fight to protect your right to damages and justice. Contact us to schedule a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney today.