Walking across the floor at a supermarket, you slip and fall on an unmarked wet floor breaking your ankle.
A distracted driver runs a red light and crashes into the passenger side door, injuring you and the rest of the passengers in your vehicle.
After bringing home the latest gadget, you begin using it according to package directions only to become injured by the product.
In each of these instances and thousands more like them, a person was injured due to the negligence of another person or company. The process of proving negligence and receiving compensation for injury to life, limb or health is covered under personal injury law.
What does personal injury law cover?
In law, a tort is a civil wrong. Torts are divided into three basic types – intentional torts, negligence torts, and strict liability torts. Intentional torts are acts where one person intends to cause another harm. Strict liability torts are acts when the defendant is liable for damages even if they were not strictly at fault. Personal injury cases are covered by negligence torts or instances where the defendant shows negligence or fails to take reasonable care to prevent injury or accidents.
What is negligence?
By strict definition, negligence happens when one party fails to take precautions to prevent injury or accident that a reasonable person would. To prove negligence, five elements must be proven.
- The defendant had a duty to provide reasonable care for their actions.
- The defendant did not demonstrate care in a reasonable manner.
- The plaintiff suffered an injury as a result of the actions of the defendant.
- The plaintiff’s injury caused actual damages.
- There is a causal link between the defendant’s actions (or inactions as the case may be) and the plaintiff’s injury.
If these five elements can be proven, the plaintiff may be entitled to receive compensation for their injuries, illness, time lost at work, or other damages.
What types of cases are considered a personal injury?
Any case where a person receives physical harm due to the negligence of another is considered personal injury. Among these types of cases are:
- Auto collisions
- Motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Nursing home injuries
- Medical Malpractice
Does a personal injury lawsuit need to be filed within a certain period?
Each state has what is called a “statute of limitations” or a period in which a person can file a personal injury lawsuit. For instance, in Washington, D.C. a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within three years of the occurrence. However, the longer a person waits to consult with an attorney, the more difficult it is to obtain evidence regarding the event and the resulting injuries. In spite of the trauma a person experiences as a result of someone else’s negligence, documentation is lost, memories fade and injuries tend to heal making it difficult to prove both damages and negligence.
What happens after I file a personal injury lawsuit?
Once a lawsuit is filed, you become the plaintiff, and the accused becomes the defendant. Attorneys representing both parties will enter a process called discovery where they will seek to find the facts surrounding the case. Documents will be exchanged, written questions will be answered, and all involved parties, witnesses and law enforcement personnel will be given an opportunity to share their experiences during depositions. Once the facts are exchanged during discovery, many personal injury cases are settled without ever going to trial.
What is considered a settlement?
A settlement is money exchanged for dropping any legal action against the negligent person. Once you agree to the settlement, you will be asked to sign a form releasing the other side from any further liability. While it is your decision whether to accept a settlement or not, your personal injury attorney will be able to give you insight into whether your lawsuit will be successful in court. It is possible for a settlement to be reached at any point once a suit is filed. Any acceptance of compensation from an insurance company for your injuries is also considered a settlement and should be discussed with your attorney.
What is considered “contributory fault” and “no-fault” in Washington, D.C.?
Like many states and territories, Washington D.C. has a contributory fault rule which applies whenever a plaintiff share some of the fault for the incident that resulted in an injury. Because of this rule, it is difficult for a person who has been injured due to the negligence of another to receive damages if they share any part of the fault for the accident. For instance, should you ignore a “Wet Floor” sign, slip in the supermarket and break your ankle, you may be considered to be partially at fault for the incident. If this is the case, the damages you are eligible for drops to zero as soon as the court enters a fault finding. While contributory fault comes up during discovery once a suit is filed, it can also be entered into consideration during insurance settlement negotiations.
Washington D.C. also follows a “no fault” car insurance system where drivers must seek compensation from their insurance coverage regardless of who was at fault. It is only permissible for drivers to seek compensation from the other driver’s insurance if their case resulted in substantial, permanent disfigurement or scarring, medically demonstrable impairment in doing normal daily activities, impairment that prevents the injured person from doing their daily activities for at least 180 days, or medical bills that exceed the limits of all no-fault insurance policies involved. Because each of these injury guidelines is flexible, your attorney will need to negotiate on your behalf with insurance companies to determine whether you are entitled to take your case outside of the no-fault limits.
When Should I Contact and Attorney?
If you or a loved one has been injured by the negligence of another, it is important to understand your rights and discuss your case with an attorney as soon as possible. For more information about personal injury law or to discuss your case, contact The Elan Law Firm for a free consultation.
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