What is Personal Injury Law?
Personal injury law, or sometimes referred to as tort law, covers cases where a person is hurt or injured, as a result of someone else’s negligence. This is a form of civil law, which means one private party is suing another, unlike criminal law where the government prosecutes someone. In these suits the injury may not have even been caused by a crime, just simple carelessness.
Lawsuits can help the injured person collect damages, which can help cover medical bills or lost wages from the injury. More often than not in the realm of personal injury law, cases are settled before the trial phase of the legal proceeding. Instead of trial, the two parties and their lawyers discuss the issue and agree on a settlement. If the case does go to trial it may be heard by a judge and a jury, or a judge alone. In this case they are responsible for determining the extent to which each party is liable and calculating a fair amount of damages for the incident.
Personal injury makes up the largest category of civil lawsuits, mainly because it covers such a wide range of situations; anywhere from falling at work to medical malpractice. Representing over half of personal injury cases each year, car accidents are the most common cause of injury lawsuits. Car accident cases are the kinds of cases where the plaintiff, or injured person, is most likely to be successful, and they result in a median award of $16,000. Car accidents can include collisions between two drivers, or incidents where a driver hits a pedestrian or biker.
Elements of Negligence
For the plaintiff to win a personal injury cases, the accident must usually be caused by the defendant’s negligence. Since these are civil cases, they may not necessarily have done anything illegal to be considered negligent. Negligence simply means that someone failed to take the precautions that a reasonable person would take in that situation. In car accidents, this can take many forms. Some common examples include texting will driving, disobeying traffic laws, or drunk driving. There are four main elements that help prove negligence; duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Duty is shown establishing that the defendant owed the plaintiff some sort of duty. For example, every driver has the duty to other drivers and pedestrians on the road to operate their vehicle safely.
A breach of that already established duty means the plaintiff proving that the defendant violated or breached the duty that the defendant owed the plaintiff. For example, if a driver speeds through a cross walk and hits a pedestrian, they have breached their duty to drive safely.
Proving causation is done in two parts. First, the plaintiff must prove that the results of the injury would not have happened but for the defendant’s negligence. This is commonly referred to as actual cause. Second, the plaintiff must prove the harm that resulted from the defendant’s action(s) was foreseeable. This kind of causation is commonly referred to as proximate cause.
Finally, to have a personal injury case, the plaintiff must be seeking some form of damages for the injury. This means the injury must have caused some sort of harm to the plaintiff. For example, if someone is in a minor car accident, which results in no personal injury or property damage, there is no harm done, and therefore no case.
In Minnesota, there are some additional requirements related specifically to filing car accident injury cases. First, a person must have accumulated over $4,000 of medical expenses related to the accident. Additionally, the accident must have caused a disability, injury, or disfigurement that has lasted more than sixty days. Finally, the injured person is expected to request compensation from their insurance first, regardless of whether they were responsible for the accident. This means that if you have personal injury protection as part of your insurance policy, and lawsuit you file must be seeking damages in excess of what your insurance is willing to pay out. In Minnesota, the minimum amount of personal injury protection required for each driver includes $20,000 of coverage for medical expenses, and $20,000 of coverage for non-medical expenses (such as lost wages). These rules were intended to prevent people from filing frivolous claims.