What Is a Personal Injury Claim?
A personal injury claim arises from tort law. A tort is an omission or act that causes harm or injury to a person. The claim is a civil action seeking compensation for injuries and damages caused by another party.
Personal injury cases are based on claims of negligence, strict liability, or intentional wrongdoing. Examples of situations that can give rise to a personal injury claim include, but are not limited to:
- Car accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Premises liability claims
- Medical malpractice
- Bicycle accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Product liability claims
- Truck accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
Wrongful death claims fall under personal injury claims. A wrongful death occurs when an accident or injury causes the death of a person. For example, a person dies from the injuries they sustain in a car crash.
Legal Elements of a Personal Injury Claim
Some product liability claims, dog bites, and activities involving abnormally dangerous activities are based on strict liability. You do not need to prove the party intended to harm you or was negligent. You only need to prove the other party was responsible for causing your injury.
However, most personal injury claims are based on negligence. You must prove the legal elements of negligence to recover compensation for damages. You must have evidence proving each of the following elements by a preponderance of the evidence:
Duty of Care
A legal duty of care in tort law requires a person to take steps to protect others from injury.
For example, property owners have a duty of care to protect invitees from dangerous conditions on the property. Motorists have a duty of care to follow traffic laws to avoid accidents. Doctors owe a duty of care to their patients to provide medical care that meets the accepted standard of care.
Generally, everyone has a duty to act with a reasonable level of care to avoid harming or injuring another person.
Breach of Duty
A person breaches their duty of care when their conduct falls short of the reasonable person standard. The jury determines what level of care a reasonably prudent person would have used in similar situations. If the defendant failed to meet that level of care, the jury might find the defendant was negligent.
The breach of duty must have been the direct and proximate cause of the person’s injury.
For example, a driver ran a red light and hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The driver’s breach of duty (failure to obey traffic laws) was the direct cause of the pedestrian’s injuries. Had it not been for the driver running the red light, the pedestrian would not have been injured.
Generally, a person is not held liable unless they could reasonably foresee that their actions could place another person in harm (proximate cause).
The victim must suffer damages to recover compensation for a personal injury claim. The person could prove that the other party was negligent in breaching their duty of care. However, if the breach of duty did not cause any damages, the at-fault party is not required to pay any money to the victim.
What Damages Can You Receive for a Personal Injury Claim?
Damages in a personal injury claim can include economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
Economic damages are the financial losses incurred by the victim. Examples include:
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Past and future medical bills
- Household chores and personal care
- Past and future lost wages and benefits
- In-home and long-term nursing care
- Diminished earning potential
Non-economic damages are the intangible losses the person experienced because of the accident and injuries. Examples include:
- Physical pain and suffering caused by injuries
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Permanent impairments and disabilities
- Emotional suffering and mental anguish
- Diminished quality of life and loss of enjoyment of life
Punitive damages are not compensatory in nature, even though the injured party receives the damages. Instead, these damages “punish” the at-fault party for acting with malice, fraud, or oppression. Punitive damages are only awarded in a small number of personal injury cases.
Is There a Deadline for Filing a Personal Injury Claim?
The California statute of limitations provides the deadlines for filing lawsuits. Allowing the statute of limitations to expire means you lose the right to pursue a legal action to recover compensation for damages.
The statute of limitations varies depending on the type of personal injury case. Most personal injury cases in California have a two-year statute of limitations. However, claims against government agencies must be filed within six months of the injury date.
Because exceptions and special circumstances could accelerate or pause the statute of limitations, it is always best to seek legal advice as soon as possible after an accident or other personal injury.