Just mentioning the “McDonald’s coffee case” is sure to evoke thoughts and opinions about personal injury law, and concepts such as fairness and just compensation. Unfortunately, personal injury or “PI” (as it is often called) is an area of the law that is often misunderstood, both in terms of what it entails, and what it is designed to accomplish. Such a misunderstanding stems in large part from the manner in which these cases have become highly publicized and politicized.
In this segment, I shall answer some of the basic, but critical questions that surround PI cases.
1. What is a personal injury case?On the surface, PI law generally tackles those cases or claims where a person has suffered harm through the fault of another. This harm can be in the form of bodily injury or death, emotional injury, or injury to one’s reputation.
2. How do I know if I have a personal injury claim?This is a question that is often asked, and quite frankly, it is easy to have a claim for personal injury. Based upon my loose definition of PI above, you have a personal injury claim if you have been injured through the fault of another.
What is more difficult, and the question that should be asked is “how do I know if I have a personal injury claim that is worth pursuing?” To answer this question requires a great deal of legwork on my part and consideration of many factors which are too numerous to list here. Generally, for me, I see each potential personal injury case as containing two halves. The first half is liability. That is, can we prove that the other party is at fault, and how complicated will it be to prove their fault? The second half is damages. That is, what is the amount of loss that you have suffered, and based upon other considerations, does that amount justify pursuing a legal claim? If, after an investigation into the facts and information, I believe there is strong evidence of fault and your losses, then yes, you likely have a PI claim worth pursuing. Of course, each person and client is unique, which means your case needs to be given individual attention, treatment, and analysis before a strategic opinion can be offered.
3. What are the different types of personal injury claims? There are many types of PI cases. While most people tend to associate PI cases with automobile accidents, the truth is, PI cases can be widely-varied, unique, and instrumental for pushing changes in the law and how companies do business.
To start, even in the auto accident arena, there are several types of PI cases, such as motorcycle accidents, big trucking accidents, accidents involving drunk drivers, and pedestrian injuries. These accident cases can lead to further legal claims such as uninsured or underinsured claims (where an injured driver may need to seek recovery from his or her own insurance company because the at-fault party did not carry insurance or did not carry enough insurance to compensate the losses caused). The key to the auto accident types of cases is whether the other driver operated their vehicle in a way that causes them to be at fault for the accident.
Aside from auto accidents, PI claims may fall under the umbrella of premises liability cases. These are cases where a person is injured on the property of another due to a defect in the premises. The most popular of these are “slip and fall” cases, such as slipping on an icy surface outside a store or upon a foreign substance in a restaurant. However, premises liability cases can also arise from strange events, such as being injured at a friend’s home by a falling dead tree branch. In premises liability cases, it is critical to find out what the owner or operator of the premises knew about the defect before the injury occurred.
There is another category of PI claims known as product liability cases. These are cases where a person is injured as a result of a defective or unreasonably dangerous product. For example, a defective tire that explodes causing a driver to crash; a defective component in a car that causes it to catch fire; a piece of machinery equipment that is without proper safety guards; an unreasonably dangerous pharmaceutical drug that causes its intended users to suffer injuries. As you can tell, product liability cases are tremendously important because not only can they help the person who was injured, but they can prompt companies, businesses, and even governments to correct defects and dangers so that others will not be similarly harmed.
A workplace injury is yet another category of PI cases. If you are employed and are injured in the workplace, you may have what is known as a workers’ compensation claim.
Sometimes, a person can be injured due to an overlap of different PI claims. For example, if a person was in a power plant, was exposed to asbestos, and contracted an asbestos-related disease, that person may have a workers’ compensation claim, a premises liability claim, and a product liability claim.
In addition to the sub-categories I have described, there are many other types of PI cases, including medical negligence or medical malpractice, assault, dog bite, and defamation (libel or slander) claims.
What is important to understand is that while each PI case is generally governed by the principles of fault and damages I have described, there are separate rules and laws that may apply depending on what type of PI claim you may have. If you have been injured in an accident, you should strongly consider seeking legal advice so that you can have your claim properly evaluated, have all your questions answered, and have your case placed on the appropriate path so that you can look with hope toward health and financial recovery.
This article is for general informational purposes only, is not for the purpose of providing legal advice, and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with an attorney to obtain advice as to your particular issue or circumstances.