Personal injury claims can be vastly different. They can range anywhere from a serious car accident, to medical malpractice or a telemarketing scam, and cover all types of injuries that people experience—physical, emotional, financial, psychological, contractual, etc.
But at the core of each and every injury case are three essential elements, or “pillars,” that make a civil claim hold up in court. These pillars are:
The first pillar of personal injury litigation rests on the foundation that the claimant has suffered damages. Damages may be compensatory or punitive. Compensatory damages include economic losses like medical bills, lost wages, and property loss, as well as non-economic losses such as emotional distress and pain and suffering. Punitive damages are tied to the justification of punishing a defendant for wrong conduct, and can be added on top of compensatory awards.
For example, in a rear-end auto collision, a victim may suffer whiplash injuries costing thousands of dollars in treatment, and makes it impossible to return to work for weeks. In this scenario, they may be entitled to compensatory payment to cover medical expenses and lost time at work.
If there are no damages in an accident claim, then there is no injury to recover compensation from, and thus the claim is unsupported.
Not only must you have suffered damages in a personal injury claim, but there must also be an individual, party, or organization responsible for the injuries. The failure to act appropriately and reasonably in preventing an injury is known as “negligence,” and the negligence of the defendant must be greater than the negligence of the plaintiff.
To establish negligence, there are four requirements that must be met. The absence of just one of these requirements is likely to result in an unsuccessful lawsuit:
- The Presence of Duty – the defendant had an obligation to prevent injury from occurring to the plaintiff
- The Breach of Duty – the defendant broke said obligation
- Claimant Sustained Damage – the plaintiff suffered injuries (see first pillar)
- Causation Between Breach and Injury – the plaintiff’s injuries can be linked to the defendants breach in duty
If a defendant acted in a reasonable manner, and negligence is not a factor, then they cannot be held liable and a personal injury claim has no grounds.
Finally, the defendant must have “deep pockets,” or some type of asset that can serve as payment for the plaintiff’s claim. In car accident cases, this typically comes in the form of the insurance coverage of the other driver, or if the driver doesn’t have insurance, then the plaintiff’s uninsured motorist policy.
Without assets, the defendant has nothing to pay with, so a claimant has no possibility of being compensated and the claim is null.
Personal injury litigation is not about making a quick buck by suing someone, but rather ensuring that justice is applied to each and every case.