Injury and Accident Law
When a person is injured, tort law will govern whether that person may be compensated for the injury, the amount of compensation that may be recovered, as well as which parties will be liable for the injury. Tort law, also known as injury law, comes from federal and state codes, as well as judicial opinions from prior cases.
Types of Injury Claims
Personal injuries constitute most injury claims in the United States. Personal injury suits may arise from automobile, plane or boating accidents, medical malpractice, animal or dog bites, defective or dangerous products, "slip and fall" accidents, or intentional assault. A number of personal injury claims also arise from injuries sustained in the workplace, including complications from industrial diseases (asbestosis, asthma, etc.), repetitive strain injury and occupational stress. Other injury claims include suits for libel, slander, defamation and property damage.
Bringing an Injury Claim
If the negligent, reckless or intentional acts of another causes an injury, injured parties or their loved ones should obtain legal representation as soon as possible to preserve evidence. Even if it appears that no one is at fault for the injury, or that injuries are minor, it may be beneficial to seek legal advice before the statute of limitations runs out and precludes further legal action. An injured victim may be able to recover through a formal civil court proceeding, or through informal settlement negotiations. If a victim chooses to pursue a civil court action, they generally must file the lawsuit in the county where the injury occurred.
Most injury cases require the injured party (the "plaintiff") to prove that the opposing party (the "defendant") acted negligently. In order to recover under a negligence claim, the injured party must prove that: (1) the defendant owed a legal duty to that party; (2) the legal duty was breached by the defendant; and (3) the defendant's actions caused the injury. Generally, every citizen has the duty to act as a reasonably prudent person under similar circumstances. Defendants breach this duty if they fail to act with reasonable care. If the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant's breach, and there is no intervening event that breaks the chain of causation, the defendant will be found negligent. If a court determines that a defendant was negligent, the defendant may be liable for the plaintiff's injuries.
A strict liability standard is used to determine liability in cases involving injuries caused by defective products, dangerous animals, or inherently dangerous activities such as blasting or shipping toxic chemicals. In strict liability cases, defendants may be found guilty even if they used reasonable care in conducting their activities. A defendant is guilty under a strict liability standard so long as the defendant's actions caused the plaintiff's injuries.
Types of Recovery in Injury Suits
An injured party may seek to recover their losses in a civil lawsuit. Additionally, a victim's family members may also be eligible to recover for losses suffered as a result of the victim's injuries. Common types of recovery include:
- General Damages. General damages compensate losses related to the injury that are not easily quantifiable. General damages include compensation for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
- Loss of Consortium. The spouse of an injured party may bring a claim for loss of consortium. Loss of consortium damages compensate the spouse for any lost affection, solace, comfort and sexual relations which may result after an injury. In some jurisdictions, parents may also recover for loss of consortium of a child.
- Lost Earning Capacity. If an injury has interfered with a party's ability to earn money in the future, the injured party may be entitled to damages for lost earning capacity. The court will consider a number of factors in determining how much the individual would have earned in ensuing years but for the injury.
- Lost Wages. An injured party may recover any wages lost from the date of the injury to the date of settlement or judgment.
- Medical Expenses. An injured party may recover medical expenses incurred in connection with the injury.
- Punitive Damages. The goal of punitive damages is not to compensate the plaintiff, but to punish the defendant. Punitive damages may be awarded any time the defendant engages in reckless or intentional wrongdoing.
- Wrongful Death. If a victim dies from their injuries, family members may bring a wrongful death action that will compensate them for the loss of the victim.