After a serious accident, you may be wondering whether you are entitled to receive financial compensation for your injuries. Many people want to know if they can file a personal injury lawsuit in addition to or instead of an insurance claim.
A personal injury lawsuit is a civil lawsuit brought by an injured person against the person or entity responsible for their injuries in an effort to recover money for their injuries and other losses.
It’s important to understand that even if you were hurt very badly in an accident, you may not have a valid personal injury lawsuit or a valid personal injury claim, which is making a claim directly to an insurance company without filing a lawsuit.
To determine whether you have a viable personal injury lawsuit or claim, you should begin by asking yourself three basic questions:
- First, did you suffer a personal injury and not just property damage?
- Second, were your injuries caused by the negligence of another person or entity?
- Finally, do you have recoverable damages?
If the answer to all three questions is “yes,” you may be able to obtain financial compensation for your injuries by bringing a personal injury lawsuit.
You should know that many different factors affect the outcome of a personal injury lawsuit. While this page serves as a general guide as to whether or not you have a valid personal injury lawsuit, you may need to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to fully understand your legal rights and remedies.
Did you suffer a personal injury?
To bring a personal injury lawsuit or claim, you must have suffered a personal injury. A personal injury is an injury to your body, mind, or emotions . In other words, a personal injury can be either physical or psychological.
If you broke your leg or sustained a concussion after slipping and falling in a grocery store, you have suffered a personal injury. If you experience severe anxiety, insomnia, or depression after a traumatic car accident, you have suffered a personal injury.
A personal injury is different than property damage. If you were involved in a minor fender bender that caused only minimal damage to your vehicle and you suffered no injuries to your body or psyche, you have not suffered a personal injury. In this scenario, an insurance company or a small claims court may provide you with a remedy. However, you do not have a legally recognized basis for a personal injury lawsuit.
Were your injuries caused by the negligence of another person or entity?
In order to have a viable personal injury lawsuit or claim, your personal injury or injuries must have been caused by the negligence of another person or entity (such as a business or government agency). Generally speaking, when a person or entity acts in a careless manner and causes injury to someone else, the careless person or entity will usually be legally responsible or (“liable”) for their injury or injuries and any other resulting harms under the legal principle of “negligence.”
The law defines negligence as the failure to behave with the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised under the same circumstances.
There are four (4) distinct elements (or legal components) to a negligence claim in a personal injury lawsuit.
In order to win a personal injury lawsuit or claim, the plaintiff (the injured person) must establish that the defendant (the person or entity responsible for their injuries) acted negligently by proving each of the following elements by a preponderance of the evidence:
- Duty: The defendant had a legal duty to behave in a certain way toward the plaintiff under the circumstances;
- Breach: The defendant breached that duty by acting or failing to act in a certain way toward the plaintiff;
- Causation: The actions (or inaction) of the defendant were the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injury; and
- Damages: The plaintiff was injured or otherwise harmed as a result of the actions or inaction of the defendant, and money damages can remedy these harms.
The following example may help you better understand the required elements of a negligence claim in a personal injury lawsuit.
Patty is a pedestrian who is crossing the street at a crosswalk. Dave is a driver who fails to stop at a stop sign and hits Patty in the crosswalk, injuring her severely. Patty experiences significant pain and suffering, and incurs medical bills after treating her injuries. Patty sues Dave, and wins her personal injury lawsuit because she proves that:
- Dave had a legal duty to drive with care and abide by traffic signs and signals;
- Dave breached that duty by failing to stop at the stop sign and striking Patty in the crosswalk;
- Dave’s failure to stop at the stop sign caused Patty’s injuries; and
- Patty was seriously injured as a result of Dave’s failure to stop at the stop sign, and money damages will remedy Patty’s injuries (pain and suffering) and other losses (her medical bills).
Do you have recoverable damages?
You must have suffered personal or financial harms that can be remedied by money damages. Damages is the legal term for a sum of money awarded to an injured person to compensate for his or her injuries and other losses.
If you can establish that another person or entity acted negligently, the court may award you, or an insurance company may agree to voluntarily pay you a sum of money that takes into account:
- Medical bills you incurred in treating your injuries;
- Physical pain, emotional suffering, and mental anguish caused by your injuries;
- Wages you lost because you could not work while you recovered from your injuries;
- Reduction in your overall earning capacity as a result of your injuries;
- Disability accommodations for your vehicle and home;
- Diminished quality of life; and
- Loss of companionship and support.
Some of these damages are economic, such as medical bills and lost wages. Others are noneconomic, such as pain and suffering and diminished quality of life. Economic damages are generally easy to calculate. Noneconomic damages are more difficult to calculate, and you may need to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to make reasonable estimates.
One thing you should keep in mind when considering a personal injury lawsuit is whether you will actually be able to recover the damages awarded to you by a court. If you file a personal injury lawsuit after a dog attack against a dog owner who has no job or other assets (such as a home or car), you may not ultimately recover any money from the dog owner.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit: What’s Next?
If you answered “yes” to each of the questions discussed above, you may have a valid personal injury lawsuit or claim. Because filing a personal injury lawsuit can have serious legal and financial consequences, and requires a thorough knowledge of the laws and legal system, it is best to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer before considering doing so.
Disclaimer: Information provided on this site is NOT formal legal advice. It is generic legal information. Under no circumstances should the information on this site be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal action. Always get a formal case evaluation from a licensed attorney if you think you might have a personal injury lawsuit.