“Personal injury” is a legal term that refers to physical or emotional injuries caused by another party’s negligence or willful misconduct. Negligence means disregarding one’s legal duty of care to another, or failing to act in a reasonably safe manner so as not to cause others harm. For instance, when someone drives while intoxicated (an act of negligence), crashes and harms someone, the injury the victim sustains would be a personal injury.
There are various types of accidents and situations that can give rise to a personal injury. Below are a few examples of some of the most common types of personal injury cases:
- Auto accidents
- Industrial, work-related, and construction site accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Dog attacks, swimming pool accidents, elevator injuries, and other accidents on others’ properties
- Injuries caused by defective products
- Medical malpractice
- Injuries caused by acts of violence
What rights do personal injury victims have?
Under Pennsylvania law, personal injury victims have the right to pursue financial recovery for their losses from the at-fault party. This is true regardless of who the at-fault party is. It may be an individual, a business, or an entity. Victims also have the right to retain a personal injury lawyer to help them file a claim and demand fair compensation for their losses.
The claims process can be rather complex, and the insurance companies involved do not always have the victims’ best interests in mind. Victims should speak to a local personal injury attorney prior to taking any legal action to ensure they handle their claims correctly, that their rights are preserved throughout the process, and that they get the full amount of compensation they are entitled to.
What constitutes a valid personal injury claim?
Injured parties must establish four elements to justify a personal injury claim. You likely have a valid injury case when you can prove the following:
- Duty of care: The at-fault party (defendant) owed you a duty of care. That is, he had a legal responsibility to act in safe way so as not to put you at risk of harm. Property owners owe their visitors a duty of care, just like manufacturers owe consumers a duty of care.
- Breach of duty: Next, you must prove that the at-fault party breached its duty to you, e.g., running a red light, leaving a spill on the floor, failing to fix a broken handrail
- Causation: You must also show that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of your injuries. If you caused your own injuries, you cannot recover from the defendant. Note: If you partially contributed to your accident, you may still be able to obtain partial compensation for your losses. Speak to a lawyer for more information.
- Damages: Finally, you must prove, using receipts, medical records, testimonies, etc., that you sustained actual harm because of the defendant’s negligence. This proof of injury enables you to seek “damages” or financial compensation for your losses.
How do victims prove a personal injury claim?
To prove a personal injury claim, you will need sufficient evidence that demonstrates both the defendant’s fault and your injuries. Your lawyer can help, but in the meantime, begin saving all documents and evidence related to your accident and injuries, such as:
- Photos of the accident and your injuries
- Eyewitness testimonies
- Other evidence of fault, e.g., the actual defective device in a product-related injury case, or a police report showing the driver’s breathalyzer results in a DUI accident case
- Medical records and mental health records
- Medical and other bills and receipts
What types of damages can a victim recover with an injury claim?
Pennsylvania personal injury law provides victims with the right to recover their financial and emotional losses related to the accident. There are three categories of damages victims may be entitled to:
- Special damages: Special damages compensate victims for their tangible, financial losses that have a verifiable dollar amount, such as medical bills, loss of wages, assistive devices, household services, and physical therapy.
- General damages: General damages compensate victims for their intangible, non-monetary losses that resulted from the accident. General damages are often referred to as “pain and suffering,” and include compensation for emotional harm, post-traumatic stress disorder, the impact of the injury on the victim’s marriage and relationships, and loss of quality of life.
- Punitive damages: In personal injury cases where the defendant was grossly negligent or malicious, the courts may award the victims with punitive damages. Unlike special and general damages which compensate victims for their actual losses, punitive awards punish the defendant for wrongdoing and discourage future misconduct.
Damage awards for personal injury cases can range from thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. Much depends on the severity of the injuries, the amount of anticipated future medical needs, and the duration of disability.
The ambition and grit of the victim’s attorney also comes into play. Before retaining counsel, personal injury victims should always check out prospective firms’ credentials and inquire about their case histories.
Do claimants need an attorney to file a personal injury case?
Most people are not familiar with the legal process, forms, and steps required when filing a personal injury claim. Simple mistakes can easily thwart a claim and victims could wind up losing their entire case. Having an attorney assist you with the process protects your interests and gives you the best opportunity for success. A lawyer can:
- Investigate liability and identify the which party/insurer to file a claim against
- Collect evidence to support the claim
- Draft documents and file paperwork with the appropriate agencies
- Calculate the value of the claim and demand appropriate compensation
- Argue against counterclaims
- Negotiate with the insurance company
- Take the case to court, if need be
For more information about personal injury cases in Pennsylvania, or to inquire about legal representation, call Berger and Green at 412-661-1400 and schedule a free consultation today.