One minute you are living your life. The next, through no fault of your own, you have suffered a devastating injury that threatens your health, future, and financial stability.
If you suffered an injury due to the wrongful actions of another person, then you may have the right to seek compensation from the party at-fault by filing a personal injury lawsuit. In this blog post, we cover the basics of personal injury lawsuits: what they are, what they involve, and the role an experienced personal injury attorney plays in them.
Personal Injury Lawsuits – Basic Concepts and Terms
A personal injury lawsuit is a civil legal action in which a person who has suffered physical, emotional, and/or financial harm seeks compensation from an individual, organization, business, or other entity who the law holds legally and financially responsible for causing that harm.
The injured party who starts the lawsuit is called the plaintiff. The party from whom the plaintiff seeks compensation is called the defendant.
Lawyers for injured people file personal injury lawsuits in the court that has jurisdiction over the geographic location and/or the subject matter of the lawsuit. Usually, although not always, that’s the court in the judicial district or county where the injury took place.
Plaintiffs have a window of time, known as a statute of limitations, in which to file a personal injury lawsuit. Their right to file a lawsuit expires if they do not act within this window of time.
A personal injury lawsuit is not a criminal matter. It is entirely separate from any criminal proceeding, even if the actions that caused the plaintiff harm were also criminal.
A personal injury lawsuit is also not merely an insurance claim. To be sure, the defendant in a lawsuit often carries liability insurance that can serve as a source of payment of compensation to the plaintiff. However, lawyers usually consider the act of submitting a claim to an insurance company as separate and distinct from filing a lawsuit against a defendant.
How Do I Know if I Have a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
The best way to know if you have a personal injury lawsuit is to speak with an experienced local personal injury attorney about your injury and how it happened. An initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer is always free-of-charge, so there’s no risk or cost to you in having the conversation and learning about your rights.
Generally speaking, you may have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit if you suffered an injury in any kind of accident or incident, and it is at least possible that someone else’s bad decisions or dangerous actions played a role in causing that to happen.
Personal injury lawsuits commonly stem from:
- Motor vehicle, motorcycle, bicycle, boating, and pedestrian accidents;
- Falling and getting hurt on someone else’s property;
- Injuries and diseases resulting from work responsibilities or environments;
- Construction-site, industrial, and oil rig accidents;
- Violent crimes, including sexual assaults;
- Animal attacks, especially dog bites.
These are just some examples, however. The bottom line is that you may have legal rights to compensation if you know, suspect, or even just aren’t sure, that someone else’s bad choices or conduct led to you getting hurt.
What Do You Need to Prove in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Personal injury lawyers use evidence to prove the defendant’s liability to the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit.
Every case is different, of course, but generally speaking, the lawyer must have enough evidence to demonstrate:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care not to put the plaintiff in unreasonable danger;
- The defendant violated that duty of care through wrongful decisions and/or actions; and
- The violation of the duty of care caused an accident or incident that harmed the plaintiff, resulting in damages.
This may sound complicated to you, but investigating, collecting, organizing, and presenting evidence to prove these elements of a personal injury lawsuit is what personal injury lawyers do day-in, day-out.
What Damages Are Available in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
As we said, every case is different.
However, as a general matter, the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit can often seek compensation for the following categories of damages:
Economic damages: These damages compensate for the financial losses a plaintiff suffers due to an injury.
- Medical expenses, including past, present, and future medical bills. These medical bills often include emergency services, ambulance rides, hospital stay, surgeries, and prescription medications
- Lost wages, including past, present, and future lost wages, due to the plaintiff missing work while healing, or suffering a disabling injury that prevents the plaintiff from returning to work in a former capacity.
- Rehabilitation costs including physical and vocational therapy.
- Personal property damages.
- At-home nursing care expenses.
- Household expenses made necessary by the injury.
- Other out-of-pocket costs.
Non-economic damages: These damages seek to capture all other types of harm a person suffers because of an injury, such as:
- Pain and suffering.
- Emotional anguish.
- Scarring and disfigurement.
- Loss of a limb.
- Loss of companionship.
- Loss of consortium.
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
Punitive damages: Courts have the option of awarding these damages when a plaintiff suffers injury due to a defendant’s especially egregious, reckless, or extremely negligent conduct.
How Can an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer Help?
Personal injury lawyers manage all aspects of the legal process of seeking compensation on behalf of an injured person.
- Investigate the accident or incident that led to the plaintiff’s injury, collecting evidence to help prove liability against one or more parties.
- Consult experts, when necessary, to aid in their analysis of how an accident or injury happened, and in proving the case in court.
- Negotiate with defense lawyers and insurance companies representing the defendant, seeking to settle the plaintiff’s claim for a fair and reasonable amount of money, if possible; and
- Present a case in a courtroom trial, when negotiation alone does not secure the compensation the plaintiff deserves.
Contact an experienced personal injury attorney today for a free consultation about your legal rights after suffering an injury.