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Personal injury is the area of law that covers accidents and injuries that cause you physical or emotional harm
You’ve been hurt, and you believe that someone else’s wrongful actions led to you being hurt.
Medical bills may be accumulating. You may be missing work time. You may no longer be able the enjoy life the way you once did. It may be time to file a personal injury claim.
Before you file a claim of damages, it’s worth addressing an important question: what is personal injury?
In American law, there are three common types of harm that can be done to an individual. These are personal injuries, damage to property, and damage to one’s reputation.
A personal injury case is typically brought when someone suffers actual bodily or emotional harm. Injuries can be caused because another party acted recklessly, negligently or maliciously.
Types of Personal Injuries
Personal injury lawsuits typically cover three key problems that can appear following an incident:
- Actual bodily harm
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
Actual bodily harm is a fairly easy concept to understand. If someone were hurt in a motor vehicle incident by a reckless driver, the injured person would expect to be compensated.
Compensation would cover existing medical bills, and it should also cover anticipated future medical expenses. This includes additional surgeries, home care, physical therapy and anything else that might help the injured party try to return to some semblance of a normal existence.
Pain and suffering is a somewhat trickier issue. Attorneys tend to encourage their clients to work with mental health professionals in order to document their pain and suffering. Someone pursuing a claim should also be able to document the activities they previously enjoyed that they can no longer participate in and how they currently feel on a daily basis.
In some states, individuals who were not immediate parties that were directly injured can also pursue compensation for pain and suffering. For example, if someone’s marital partner were attacked and could no longer participate in a meaningful relationship, they might be able to seek damages for loss of companionship.
Emotional distress is one of the more difficult injuries to pursue. Emotional distress can be seen as negligently or intentionally inflicted. This covers a wide range of injuries ranging from defamation to threats of physical harm.
Who gets sued?
The party most likely to be sued is whoever might be judged to have a duty of care.
Duty of care covers a wide variety of everyday activities.
Grocery stores have a duty of care to ensure that shoppers don’t suffer slip-and-fall accidents.
All motorists have a duty of care that requires them to safely operate their vehicles at all times.
Medical practitioners have a duty of care that demands they perform their trades using accepted methods.
Manufacturers have a duty of care that requires them to ensure their products do not pose needless risks to consumers.
If you can imagine a reason why someone would need to do something safely in order to not endanger the public, there’s a pretty good chance that person has a legal duty of care.
The settlement process
There is a common misconception that injury claims lead to lawsuits and trials. This is far from the truth. In fact, around 95 percent of all injury claims are settled without going to court.
The settlement process typically involves filing appropriate paperwork with the state where the injury occurred. The injured party’s counsel will then negotiate with an insurance carrier in order to arrive at a figure that’s agreeable to both sides. Once a settlement has been reached, the responsible party will include provisions that preclude any further actions related to the case.
Injured parties can choose to take matters to trial if negotiations fail. If this happens, the court will hear the two sides’ arguments and render a judgment. In order to discourage responsible parties from avoiding negotiations and pushing issues to trial, courts reserve the right to impose additional compensation for attorney’s fees and punitive damages.
The most obvious example of a personal injury involving bodily harm is a motor vehicle accident claim.
If a truck driver were operating his vehicle without getting enough sleep and hit a car, an injured motorist would have the basis for filing a claim. Since trucking companies are typically required to carry insurance, these cases tend to be settled through the insurance carrier.
An individual hurt in an accident can pursue damages for more than just bodily harm and medical bills. For example, a person who’s too scared from an accident to drive anymore may be able to seek money for their ensuing reduction in quality of life.
Pain and suffering claims typically extend beyond the immediate bodily harmed that occurred.
The classic example for pain and suffering is a disfiguring injury that might be relatively inexpensive from a medical perspective. It may, however, lead to lifelong self-consciousness issues that give rise to suffering that significantly exceeds the damages awarded.
This may be true even using common pain and suffering multipliers, which usually add one to five times the cost of medical expenses. See how pain and suffering is calculated.
Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) covers behaviors that are seen as outrageous based upon social norms.
Sexual partners who recorded an encounter might open themselves up to an IIED claim by sharing the video with others without the consent of both partners. Deliberately passing along false information, such as telling someone that a family member died, would also qualify as a type of IIED.
Negligent infliction of emotional distress often covers incidents that were gruesome to witness. Someone who saw a fellow employee mangled by a machine at work might be able to sue on the basis of NIED due to the damage caused by witnessing the event.
What ISN’T personal injury?
Injuries are typically expected to be extreme and immediate. Most types of immediate bodily harm are obviously covered by personal injury law. A person who witnessed the aftermath of an event, however, is typically not allowed to seek compensation.
For example, a family member who rushed to the scene of an auto accident usually cannot seek compensation for emotional distress as a result of seeing the aftermath. A family member who was present during the accident, however, may be able to do so.
If an individual is found mostly liable for their own injuries, they usually cannot recover damages. In some states, liability is split between the two parties. For example, if two drivers collided while both acted negligently, the injured driver would not be allowed to recover any compensation if found 50-percent or more liable.
See more on shared fault rules.
Pursuing a personal injury claim tends to be a lengthy process. If you believe you may have grounds for filing a claim, you can discuss your situation with an attorney. By keeping good records of what happened and documenting your experiences after the fact, you can build a better case and see that your claim is handled properly by the insurance company.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.