A personal injury lawsuit is something you may be able to file after you’re hurt in an injury or an accident.
While any kind of accident can lead to a personal injury case, some are more common than others. Personal injury law is also referred to as tort law, and the objective of this area of law is to help someone who’s hurt or incurs damages get compensation for the wrongful conduct of another individual, business, or government entity.
An injury doesn’t automatically mean someone has legal liability, though.
Some of the more common case types we see in personal injury include:
- Car accidents—these are by and large the most commonly seen types of personal injury cases in the U.S. When you’re involved in an accident, it’s very often because you or someone else on the road wasn’t following the rules or driving carefully. Careless drivers can be held financially responsible for potential injuries other drivers or pedestrians sustain unless they’re in no-fault states.
- Slip and fall—in these cases, property owners or even people renting property have a legal responsibility and duty to ensure the premises are reasonably safe in order to prevent people on the property from becoming injured.
- Medical malpractice—claims of medical malpractice can arise when a health care professional doesn’t provide treatment meeting the appropriate standard of care, and then a patient is injured as a result. That doesn’t mean that getting a bad outcome in your health care means you have a malpractice case automatically, though.
- Dog bites—owners of a dog can, in some cases, be held financially responsible for bites and injuries the dog causes. The particular laws vary depending on the state.
Negligence in Personal Injury
A big part of understanding whether or not you have a personal injury case and, if so, the documents you’ll need to show as evidence, relies on the legal concept of negligence.
In most cases of personal injury, if you’re the injured person, you’re the plaintiff. Your case is based on negligence as a legal concept, to show that you were hurt through the action or potentially the inaction of someone else.
Negligence has certain elements that have to be met. You’ll need to first show that someone else had a duty of care in the situation leading to your injuries. That means as a plaintiff, you’ll have to show how the other person didn’t meet their duty or breached the duty of care.
Duty of care is the responsibility a person has to avoid harming another.
If someone is driving, for example, they are legally required and have a duty to operate their car with reasonable care, taking into consideration traffic conditions and weather, at all times.
In a slip and fall case, the business or owner of the property has a duty of care to keep the site free of known hazards. If they discover a hazard, they have to fix it in a reasonable amount of time.
After the establishment of a duty of care, you have to show how the defendant violated the standard of care.
You also have to show that the breach of duty of care then led to your injuries and damages.
You don’t necessarily need perfect proof to show negligence or that duty of care was breached. Most of the time, in a situation like a car accident case, you’re negotiating with an insurance adjuster, or at least your lawyer is. You just need to be able to make a reasonable argument that someone else was negligent.
As far as gathering evidence, as much as it’s about proving negligence, it’s also to help you justify the compensation you’re demanding, as far as both economic and non-economic damages.
What Evidence Proves Your Case?
In personal injury cases, of course, the specific evidence that’s going to prove negligence will depend on the type of case, but in general, some of the documentation to consider gathering include the following:
- Reports from law enforcement. If the police respond to the scene of your accident, you’ll want to make sure you know how to get their report, and if not, you’ll need to file an incident report.
- You’ll want to ensure you take as many photos of the scene as you can.
- If there are witnesses, record what they say they saw at the time and get their contact information.
- Medical records are a big part of what you need to collect for a successful personal injury case. Even if you’re in an accident, but you don’t immediately feel like you need medical care, get it anyway. This starts a paper trail that you can use to show your damages. You’ll want to use medical records to show your attorney the full scope of whatever your injuries are, and you should start collecting a file as soon as possible. Don’t forget about the mental health care you receive because of your accident.
- Along with the records themselves, you’ll want to provide all of your medical bills and associated expenses. This could include things like the expense of traveling for treatment or, if you had to stay somewhere overnight to go to treatment, the hotel bills.
- Document any time you took off work due to your accident and injuries.
- An attorney will want to see an injury diary. In your injury diary, you’ll want to make notes and keep records about how you feel physically and also emotionally. Keep notes about the medications you take, the pain you’re in, how your limitations are affecting your quality of life, and events you had to miss.
- You’ll want work information such as your pay stubs, bonus reports, and W-2 information. This is relevant because you can claim compensation for lost earning capacity and wages.
Finally, you’ll want records for any bills or repair invoices stemming from property damage.
The better prepared with all of this information, the more likely your lawyer will be able to help you settle with the insurance company. If there’s anything that you can’t obtain, your lawyer can help you gather this evidence.