Evaluating a Personal Injury Case: Elements
A finding of liability is the first step in evaluating a potential personal injury case. Determining who is legally liable can be a complicated process in some cases such as product liability, or a fairly straight-forward one in a simple “fender bender” auto accident.
In an automobile accident case, often the culpable party is the driver of the car that hit you. There can be other factors involved, such as you own culpability. In some states, if you did anything to help cause the accident, that can bar you from recovery. In other states, your comparative negligence may reduce your award by the percentage that you may be at fault.
In other claims such as product liability cases where you may have been injured by a defectively designed or manufactured product, the issue of liability can be much more complicated. There is a longer chain of control over the product from design, to manufacture, to retail sales and shipping of a product. It is often necessary to conduct some investigation either during the claims process or during the litigation process to determine legal liability.
Because your whole case depends on a strong finding of liability, you should consult with an attorney before making any attempt to resolve any personal injury case.
Even if you have a solid case with regard to liability, if you have no damages, you have no case–there will be nothing to collect. Damages often involve physical injuries sustained, but they can also involve other types of injury such as financial injury. In all cases, your damages must be significant enough to warrant pursuing a case. A minor injury may not result in a strong enough case to warrant a claim. But if you sustained a significant injury, such as a broken bone, a herniated disc or the like that will prevent you from working for a time or will diminish your ability to earn a living for some time, you will have a significant recovery provided liability is clear.
The aim of personal injury law is to make the injured party whole again. And although we cannot turn the clock back to avoid the accident and injury, a culpable defendant can pay you money. If the culpable party has no insurance, and no assets, you might be able to get a judgment, but it is unlikely that you will ever collect the judgment from that person. The inability to actually collect a check weakens a case significantly.
The type of damages available in personal injury cases varies. In general, there are compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are those that compensate you for the injuries that you have suffered. Punitive damages are meant to punish bad behavior and are associated with intentional bad acts as opposed to negligent acts.
Compensatory damages are available in all sorts of personal injury cases. These sorts of damages are specific to the type of injury sustained and cover any loss or expense related to an injury. Some examples of special compensatory damages might be:
- property damage (car accident)
- medical bills (for treatment as a result of the injury)
- cost of a rental car (while your car is being repaired in a car accident case)
- lost wages, present and future if applicable
General compensatory damages are also recoverable. These are damages that do not have a specific dollar amount associated with them. Examples of these damages are such things as:
- compensation for pain and suffering
- emotional distress
- loss of consortium (diminishment of a relationship due to your injuries)
Samples of Personal Injury Cases–Settled
So much of the value of a case depends upon the severity of the injuries. While it may be tempting to look at big figure settlements, most settlements and verdicts tend to be somewhat less than that million dollar mark. Personal injury lawyers are always around and ready to help. Here are some examples of recent settlements and verdicts in personal injury.
Runnels v. Alcala. Alameda County, CA. $45,864 verdict. This was a hit and run in a tunnel. Liability and damaged were disputed. The plaintiff sustained a sprained thumb and a neck strain. Medical bills included treatment for medical exams, x-rays and physical therapy.
Shuck v. Vertner. San Jose, CA. $70,000 settlement. A driver injured the plaintiff when backing out of his driveway rapidly. The plaintiff sustained chronic neck injuries.
Grotnhuis v. Golden Gate Bridge Transportation. San Francisco, CA $4 million. A woman was crossing the street in an intersection on a “walk signal.” A bus turned into the lane and hit her, the wheels of the bus ran over her pelvis and crushed it.