Most people don’t think about personal injury law or hiring a personal injury lawyer until they are injured. Once they’ve determined that they need a personal injury lawyer, however, a lot of questions come up. Below are answers to some of the questions that we hear most often about personal injury topics.
What is personal injury law?
Personal injury law is an area of the law that allows injured people to seek compensation for physical or emotional damages that someone else caused. As explained by the American Bar Association, whether the injuries were caused by negligence, by intentional acts, or in a scenario in which the other party had strict liability, a personal injury case hinges on the following two components:
- Liability: Whose actions resulted in your injuries?
- Damages: What expenses did you face, and what were the negative, non-economic impacts of your injuries?
Many personal injury cases begin with the injured party attempting to negotiate a settlement with the at-fault party or the insurance company. However, if the insurance company does not offer a fair settlement, the injured person may need to file a personal injury lawsuit in court to seek compensation. During such a lawsuit, the injured party presents evidence of the at-fault party’s liability, as well as the injury and related expenses, so that a judge or jury can determine the appropriate amount of compensation to award the injury victim.
What types of accidents are covered by personal injury law?
Most types of accidents in which someone’s negligence is to blame are covered by personal injury law, including:
- Motor vehicle accidents involving passenger cars, commercial vehicles, buses, rideshares, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, watercraft, or aircraft
- Pedestrian and bicycle accidents
- Medical malpractice, including birth injuries, medical errors, and failure to diagnose
- Nursing home abuse and neglect
- Premises liability, which involves accidents that occur due to hazards at a place of business, public property, or a private residence
- Defective products, including defective drugs, auto parts, food, or children’s toys
What is negligence, and how does a plaintiff prove it?
Negligence is defined as a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised in the same circumstances. An accident victim can successfully demonstrate that a defendant was negligent by providing evidence that establishes the following:
- The defendant (the at-fault party) owed the plaintiff (the injured party) a legal duty of care. For example, in a car accident case, all drivers owe one another a legal duty of care to drive their vehicles in a safe and lawful manner.
- The defendant breached this duty of care. Using the car accident example, the breach in the duty of care would be that the defendant operated his or her vehicle in an unsafe or unlawful manner, by, for example, speeding or driving while impaired by alcohol.
- The defendant’s breach in the duty of care resulted in the accident, which caused the plaintiff’s injuries and commensurate expenses and impacts.
What is strict liability?
Strict liability is a legal standard that holds people or entities responsible for the consequences of particular types of actions, regardless of their mental state or intention at the time. In Pennsylvania, strict liability exists in three different types of cases:
- Product liability: When a manufacturer makes a defective product available for purchase in Pennsylvania, the manufacturer can be held strictly liable for product defects that cause injury to people through ordinary or foreseeable use of the product.
- Dog bites: In Pennsylvania, if a dog bites someone, the owner is strictly liable for the victim’s injuries, regardless of whether or not the owner had reason to believe that the dog was vicious. This is different from the “one bite rule” that many states follow, where the owner may be held liable only if he or she had reason to know that the dog is vicious. There are exceptions to strict liability in Pennsylvania when it comes to dog bites, including if the victim was trespassing on the dog owner’s property at the time of the injury or if the victim provoked the dog.
- Dangerous activities: If someone is engaged in an abnormally dangerous and ultra hazardous activity, such as blasting, that party may be held strictly liable for the damages that it causes, whether or not it intended to hurt anyone.
I was assaulted. Do personal injury lawyers take cases involving intentional injuries, such as assault?
Yes. If you were assaulted, we can help you determine your eligibility to file a personal injury lawsuit against the person who assaulted you. Please note, however, that there is a significant difference between criminal prosecution and a personal injury lawsuit.
First of all, criminal cases generally involve the at-fault party being arrested and charged with a crime. Government prosecutors perform an investigation. The at-fault party must be found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt to be convicted of the crime. If convicted, the at-fault party may be subject to incarceration, fines, probation, community service, and other requirements to satisfy the state’s punishment.
Personal injury lawsuits, on the other hand, do not involve someone being arrested or charged. The burden of proof is lower, and the plaintiff in such a case only needs to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the assault occurred. “Preponderance of evidence” means that the assault was more likely than not to have happened in the way the plaintiff states that it did. If the defendant is found liable, he or she—or his or her insurance company—will be ordered to compensate the victim for injuries.
It is possible to file a personal injury lawsuit against someone who assaulted you even if that person was arrested and is serving time for the crime, or even if a court found the defendant not guilty in the criminal case.
Since criminals don’t often carry large insurance policies that cover them in assault cases, even if you win that lawsuit, you may not recover much, if any, compensation. Consequently, we may want to look for other parties that bear responsibility for your safety and file claims against them. Nightclubs, hotels, theme parks, casinos, and other public accommodations that don’t properly light or patrol their parking lots or other public spaces (like a hotel’s pool, workout area, or sauna), for example, may face liability for an assault on their premises that left you injured.
Give us a call and let us see if we can help you seek compensation.
I was injured in a car accident. Am I eligible to receive compensation?
If you have a personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policy, which is generally required in Pennsylvania, then this policy is likely your first source of compensation for your injuries, regardless of who was at fault in your accident. Your PIP coverage will provide reimbursement for your medical expenses up to the limit of your policy.
If your accident resulted from someone else’s negligence, and your injury qualifies as a serious injury under Pennsylvania law, you should consider seeking additional compensation through a personal injury lawsuit, which will enable you to not only pursue compensation for medical expenses and lost income but also for pain and suffering.
What is the serious injury threshold?
For an injury to meet Pennsylvania’s serious injury threshold and render the victim eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit after a car accident, the injury must result in serious impairment of a body function, permanent disfigurement, or death. When determining whether an injury qualifies as serious under the law, courts will consider:
- A victim’s range of motion following an accident
- Recovery time
- Inability to engage in regular activities and tasks, including chores that the victim used to complete before the injury
- Whether the injury required surgery
What is the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania personal injury cases?
Generally, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit is two years from the date of the injury. There are some limited exceptions to this rule, and your attorney can advise you about whether those exceptions apply in your case.
If I am hurt on the job, can I file a personal injury lawsuit against my employer?
Most work-related injuries are covered by worker’s compensation insurance, which employers are required to provide for their employees. Because of this requirement, most people are unable to seek compensation for their workplace injury via a personal injury lawsuit. (That said, you may need our help getting the workers’ comp policy to what it owes you.) One exception to this rule, however, is if the work-related injury was caused by a third-party who is not your employer or a co-worker.
I was injured, and the at-fault party’s insurance company just offered me a settlement. Should I take it?
You should use caution when accepting a quick settlement from an insurance company, as it likely doesn’t take into consideration the long term impacts of your injury. Once you accept a settlement, you likely will not be permitted to go back and ask for more money for expenses that you didn’t foresee at the time the settlement was offered. This is why it is important to have an experienced personal injury attorney establish a value to your case that takes into consideration all of your expenses and impacts—those that are current as well as those that are projected in the future.
What is the value of my case? How is that determined?
The value of your case is based on the actual expenses you’ve already incurred, including medical bills, lost income, and property damage, as well as those you will likely face in the future based on your diagnosis. Some of these future expenses include the likely need for additional medical treatment, the loss of future earning capacity if your injuries render you unable to work or unable to continue working in the same capacity as before the accident.
In addition, the value of your case reflects the non-economic damages you’ve incurred, such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, or loss of enjoyment of life. Non-economic damages are determined based on a formula. The sum of your economic and non-economic damages are added together to produce the value of your case.
If I hire an attorney, does that mean my case will go to court?
Not necessarily. In truth, the majority of personal injury cases are settled before they ever see the inside of a courtroom. However, your personal injury attorney should be confident and comfortable with representing you in court if the case does not settle, to pursue the highest award possible to ensure that your medical and emotional needs following your injury are met.
Are there caps as to how much I can ask for in a personal injury case?
In general, Pennsylvania does not cap the amount of damages that a court can award a plaintiff in a personal injury case, exception for punitive damages, which punish particularly egregious behavior, as well as in some claims against the government. Punitive damages in medical malpractice cases are restricted by law, and the law also caps the amount of damages that plaintiffs can seek from state and local governments.
Do I need an attorney for my personal injury case?
While it is not required to use an attorney when seeking compensation, it is extremely helpful. Those who use an attorney generally obtain higher settlements and awards than those who do not. In addition, your attorney can provide you with services that you might be hard-pressed to perform on your own.
Some of these services include:
- Establishing a value to your case
- Determining all potentially liable parties in your case as well as all sources of insurance that you can pursue to maximize your compensation
- Contacting experts who can help prove your injuries in court and speak to the challenges that may impact you in the future
- Answering your legal questions and advising you on the pros and cons of the options that are available to you
- Negotiating with the at-fault party’s insurance company to help you receive the highest amount of compensation available to you
- Filing your personal injury lawsuit and complying with all statutory guidelines and filing requirements
- Representing you at all pretrial and trial proceedings, as well as any appeals that are filed in your case
- Presenting the court with an accurate picture of how your accident occurred, who was liable, and how the injury has impacted your life
- Assisting with collecting your settlement or award
The Levin Firm has advocated for the injured since 2005. We believe that your rights and your recovery are our responsibility. If you were injured in an accident, contact us today for a consultation and case review.