Understanding the Elements of a Personal Injury Case

Most people's experience with the legal system comes from what they see in prime-time courtroom dramas, so when they have been injured in an accident and are considering filing a personal injury claim or lawsuit, they are not quite sure what to expect. Learning about the basic differences between criminal and civil law, as well as the key aspects of a personal injury case can help potential plaintiffs acclimate to the idea of taking legal action.

Personal Injury Cases

Personal injury cases are legal disputes between two private parties, in which one side seeks financial compensation for an injury (or injuries) caused by the other party's negligent action or behavior. Involving a plaintiff (the victim) and a defendant (the accused), personal injury cases fall under the umbrella of civil, or tort law. Examples of common personal injury cases include:

  • Auto accidents cases
  • Truck accidents cases
  • Motorcycle accidents cases
  • Product liability cases
  • Slip-and-fall premises liability cases
  • Wrongful death cases

Differences Between Civil and Criminal Cases

There are several main ways that civil and criminal cases differ, including the players, motivation for bringing cases, and potential punishments. While the players in both kinds of law are largely the same—victim, defendant, attorneys, judge, and jury—their roles are a bit different. Whereas civil cases are brought by a victim against a defendant, criminal cases are brought against the defendant by a prosecuting attorney.

Plaintiffs often bring civil cases because they seek a resolution to a contract dispute or are pursuing compensation for damages from a negligent party. In criminal cases, a prosecutor brings charges against a defendant for the violation of a law that is considered harmful to society as a whole, such as a robbery or murder.

Potential punishments are the area where civil and criminal cases vary the most. In civil cases, punishments are usually monetary—paid to the victim in the form of a settlement for damages—or a court order to do a specific thing. Criminal cases, however, carry punishments that may include jail time, prison time, and fines.

Elements of a Tort

The majority of personal injury cases boil down to one person claiming that another acted negligently, usually in the form of a car crash, product liability claim, or premises liability accident. The success of a personal injury claim or lawsuit depends on whether the personal injury attorney can demonstrate the following criteria, known as the elements of a tort:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, meaning that the defendant was obligated to reasonably protect the plaintiff from a particular type of harm. For example, store owners owe shoppers a duty of care to maintain their floors to prevent slips and falls.
  • The defendant failed to act responsibly or safely, breaching that duty. For example, if a store owner knew a floor was cracked or uneven but neglected to have it repaired in a timely manner.
  • The defendant's negligent actions were the direct cause of the plaintiff's injury. If a shopper slips and falls on uneven flooring and is injured, the fall and the injuries are a direct cause of the store owner's failure to repair the floor.
  • The injuries were significant enough that the plaintiff sought medical care. If the potential plaintiff in our example slipped and banged her knee, but was not seriously injured and didn't seek medical treatment, her personal injury case is unlikely to conclude favorably. However, if the plaintiff fell and broke her knee, requiring extensive treatment and rehabilitation, financial recovery is more likely.

Do You Need a Personal Injury Attorney?

If another person's negligence resulted in your injury, you may be able to file a civil personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party and seek a monetary award for damages such as medical bills, property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering and more. The knowledgeable, experienced legal team with Morris James Personal Injury Group can help you every step of the way. Contact our office today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.