Frequently Asked Questions
Personal injury law is also known as tort law. What exactly is a tort? A tort is described as "a civil wrong or wrongful act, whether intentional or accidental, from which injury occurs to another. Torts include all negligence cases as well as intentional wrongs which result in harm." Torts fall under three broad categories:
Negligent torts - causing an accident that results in injury
Intentional torts - purposely inflicting injury
Strict liability torts - manufacturing, marketing or selling defective products that result in injury
What are Negligence Actions?
The most common tort is negligence. Negligence is the doing of something that a reasonably prudent person would not do, or the failure to do something that a reasonably prudent person would do under similar circumstances. It is the failure to use ordinary or reasonable care. Ordinary or reasonable care is that care which persons of ordinary prudence would use in order to avoid injury to themselves or others under similar circumstances. Negligence actions include motor vehicle accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, swimming and diving accidents, boating accidents, premises liability (slip and fall) accidents, attacks by domestic animal other than dogs, medical malpractice, and construction accidents.
When an accident occurs due to negligence, the injured party may file a claim against the negligent party to recover all their damages. Damages generally include current and future medical expenses, property damage, pain and suffering, current and future loss of income, loss of enjoyment and, in certain cases, punitive damages.
What are Intentional Tort Actions?
Intentional tort is the "malicious" or "intentional" infliction of harm that results in injury. Many intentional torts are also criminal offenses. For example, assault and battery is an intentional tort and also a criminal offense.
What are Strict Liability Torts?
Strict or absolute liability means that the defendant is responsible for injuring another person regardless of negligence or intent. Some instances in which the law might apply strict liability are dog bites, attacks by wild animals, and defective product cases
How do I know if I have a personal injury case?
First, you must have suffered an injury to your person or property. Second, you should consider whether your injury was someone else's fault. It is not always necessary to have a physical injury to bring a personal injury lawsuit — some personal injury claims can be based on a variety of nonphysical losses and harms. In the case of an assault, for example, you do not need to show that a person's action caused you actual physical harm, but only that you expected some harm to come to you. Similarly, you also may have a case if someone has caused injury to your reputation, invaded your privacy or intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon you.
How soon after I am injured do I have to file a lawsuit?
Every state has certain time limits, called "statutes of limitations," which govern the amount of time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit. If you miss the deadline for filing your case, you may lose your legal right damages for your injury. Consequently, it is important to contact a lawyer as soon as you suffer or discover an injury.
What should I bring with me for my meeting with a lawyer?
You should provide a lawyer with any documents that might be relevant to your case. Police reports, for example, contain eyewitness information and details about the conditions surrounding the event from which your claim arises. Copies of medical reports and bills from doctors and hospitals will help demonstrate the extent and nature of your injuries. Information about the insurer of the person who caused your injury is extremely helpful, as are any photographs you have of the accident scene, damaged property and your injuries. The more information you are able to give your lawyer, the easier it will be for him or her to determine if your claim will be successful. If you haven't collected any documents at the time of your first meeting, however, don't worry; your lawyer will be able to obtain them in his investigation of your claim.
What if a person dies before bringing a personal injury lawsuit?
If a person injured in an accident subsequently dies because of those injuries, that person's heirs may typically recover money through a lawsuit known as a wrongful death action. Also, even if a person with a personal injury claim dies from unrelated causes, the personal injury claim survives in most cases and may be brought by the executor or personal representative of the deceased person's estate.
What is "negligence?"
The critical issue in many personal injury cases is just how a "reasonable person" was expected to act in the particular situation that caused the injury. A person is negligent when he or she fails to act like an "ordinary reasonable person" would have acted. The determination of whether a given person has met the "ordinary reasonable person" standard is often a matter that is resolved by a jury after presentation of evidence and argument at trial.
What if I can't prove someone's negligence caused my injury? Is there any other basis for personal injury liability besides negligence?
Yes. Some persons or companies may be held "strictly liable" for certain activities that harm others, even if they have not acted negligently or with wrongful intent. Under this theory, a person injured by a defective or unexpectedly dangerous product, for instance, may recover compensation from the maker or seller of the product without showing that the manufacturer or seller was actually negligent. Also, persons or companies engaged in using explosives, storing dangerous substances, or keeping dangerous animals can be strictly liable for harm caused to others as a result of such activities.
Will the person who caused my injury be punished?
Not in the traditional sense of the word. Defendants in civil actions for personal injury do not receive jail terms or criminal fines as punishment. Those are criminal sentences, and personal injury cases are civil actions. However, in some cases, juries and courts can award what are called "punitive damages," which are designed to punish defendants who have behaved recklessly or intentionally against the public's interest. The goal in ordering the payment of punitive damages is to discourage such defendants and others from engaging in the same kind of harmful behavior in the future.