Personal Injury FAQs
What is a catastrophic injury?
A catastrophic injury is a physical injury or illness that is regarded as extreme or particularly serious, has a considerable impact on the victim of the injury or illness and needs a considerable amount of medical treatment. Catastrophic injuries may not always be permanent, but take months or years to heal. In some cases, the full extent of the injuries may not be known for a long amount of time. The effects of such injuries may be long lasting, both physically and emotionally. The types of catastrophic injuries are wide ranging. Some examples of such injuries are extensive burns, loss of a limb, severe brain injuries, spinal cord injuries or injuries causing paralysis. These injuries may affect many body systems, such as the central nervous system, gastrointestinal, urinary, respiratory, circulatory, excretory, reproductive and others.
Many wide varieties of personal injury events may cause a catastrophic injury. There are not certain types of accidents that determine if an injury may be classified as catastrophic. The severity of the injury itself makes that determination. Some examples of accidents may be automobile accidents, motorcycle accidents, accidents in the workplace, defective products, toxic substances, birth injuries and injuries due to fire or other disasters.
What types of damages can I receive for catastrophic injuries?
A person who has suffered a catastrophic injury may be awarded damages for the losses incurred. The amount and type of loss depends on the injury and the situation that caused the injury. However, many damages for catastrophic injuries include medical costs (at the time of injury and future medical treatment), lost wages, loss of future income (if the injured party will not be able to work for a period of time, even permanently), loss of household services, costs of additional care, loss of quality of life, pain and suffering, shortened life span and others. In addition to these types of damages, courts in some jurisdictions will also award punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded by the fact finder (judge or jury) in addition to compensatory damages. The goal of punitive damages is to punish the responsible party for the injuries the victim has suffered. Not all jurisdictions will award punitive damages and not all cases will warrant such an award, it depends on the jurisdiction and the facts of your case.
Who is responsible for a catastrophic injury?
If the injury suffered by the victim was caused by an intentional act, negligence or a defective product, there may be a cause of action for personal injury. When determining who is responsible for your catastrophic injury, it is important to look at the specific facts of your case. There may be more than one person who played a role in the sustained injuries. Depending on your case, the responsible party may be your doctor, nurse, hospital or other medical personnel, the owner of the motor vehicle that caused your accident, your employer or the manufacturer of a defective drug or product. It is important to seek an attorney, in your area, experienced in catastrophic injury cases to help investigate your case and determine the appropriate parties who may be responsible for your injuries.
- What must a plaintiff prove to recover for an assault or battery?
- If a dog bites a person, is the owner liable for doctor's bills?
- What does a person have to prove to win a slander or libel claim?
- Does the average member of the public have any privacy rights?
- Can a person recover damages for injuries sustained on someone else's property?
- Is an owner of property liable for using deadly force to defend their property?
- What remedies does a railroad worker, who is injured while working, have?
- What is a slip and fall action?
- Can anyone bring a wrongful death claim?
- Learn more: plaintiff's personal injury law
What must a plaintiff prove to recover for an assault or battery?
The terms assault and battery are often erroneously used interchangeably. An assault can be defined as the threat to use unlawful force to inflict bodily injury upon another. The threat, which must be believed to be imminent, must cause reasonable apprehension in the plaintiff. Therefore, where the defendant has threatened some use of force, creating an apprehension in the plaintiff, an assault has occurred. The focus, for the purpose of determining whether a particular act is an assault, must be upon the reasonableness of the plaintiff's reaction.
If the defendant threatens to use force against the plaintiff, but clearly states that the use of force will not be imminent and will instead occur at some point in the future, then the plaintiff is unlikely to prevail on a claim of assault. If the threat is imminent, and the defendant appears capable and intent on carrying it out, the plaintiff will likely succeed in proving an assault occurred.
Battery is the intentional and unpermitted contact with another. A battery, for practical purposes, is the end product of an assault. A plaintiff in a battery claim does not need to prove an actual injury, as long as the plaintiff proves unlawful and unpermitted contact with his or her person or property. For example, plaintiffs have successfully proven a battery where the defendant grabbed onto the plaintiff's coat. In addition, it is not necessary for the contact to be with an object in the possession of the plaintiff or the plaintiff's body. An unpermitted contact with property of the plaintiff, located within the plaintiff's proximity, may also constitute a battery.
If a dog bites a person, is the owner liable for doctor's bills?
In general, the answer to this question is yes. An owner of a dog, or any animal for that matter, may be held liable for injuries the animal inflicts on others. However, the ease with which a plaintiff can win a dog-bite lawsuit differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending on the legal theory of recovery available in the plaintiff's location. Some jurisdictions require the plaintiff to show that the animal owner knew, or should have known, that the animal was inclined to attack or bite. In other jurisdictions, the plaintiff may only need to show negligence on the part of the owner in order to recover money for his or her injuries. If a wild animal, such as a lion, bear or monkey, injures the plaintiff, the animal's owner may be held accountable under a theory of strict liability for plaintiff's injuries regardless of the plaintiff's conduct.
Some states have dog-bite statutes designed to address these matters. Additionally, some municipalities may also have their own statutes which address the responsibility of pet owners to answer for the actions of their pets.
If the plaintiff is an adult, the owner of an animal may offer as a defense to the plaintiff's claim that the injured party provoked the animal. Where the plaintiff has been given clear warning that an animal should not be approached, petted or talked to and still proceeds with that action, the owner may be able to avoid responsibility if the animal thereafter attacks the plaintiff. This defense is not available, however, if the plaintiff is a child.
Once the plaintiff has established that the animal owner is liable for his or her injuries, the plaintiff must also establish the amount of his or her damages. The plaintiff should introduce evidence of how much it has cost to treat the injury, such as doctor and hospital bills. In addition, the plaintiff may be able to recover lost wages if the injury kept the plaintiff out of work. The plaintiff is entitled to compensation for any permanent disability caused by the injury, as well as compensation for pain and suffering.
What does a person have to prove to win a slander or libel claim?
Before beginning a libel or slander lawsuit, the plaintiff must determine whether or not the objectionable statement is true. No matter how damaging, insensitive, rude or inappropriate a statement may be, the plaintiff will lose if the statement is true.
The public plaintiff has additional hurdles to overcome to recover for libel or slander. An example of a public figure is a politician. Along with establishing all of the regular elements of the tort, a plaintiff who is a public figure must also show that the defendant knew the false statement was false, or at least acted with reckless disregard as to its truthfulness. Newspapers may escape liability for libel when they merely report false statements as long as the paper had no particular reason to doubt the statement at the time it was printed.
Finally, the plaintiff often has to prove economic harm in order to recover on a defamation suit. Therefore, the plaintiff may need to be able to demonstrate a loss of business as a result of the defamation in order to establish a right to the recovery of money. However, some types of statements are so damaging that the plaintiff does not have to prove any economic loss. These statements tend to be those that accuse the plaintiff of sexual impropriety or criminal conduct.
Does the average member of the public have any privacy rights?
Yes. The average member of the public is entitled to privacy protections, although the strength of those protections will vary depending upon the particular factual circumstances.
Generally, there are four different actions that an injured plaintiff can allege to recover for an unlawful invasion of his privacy. The first concerns the unlawful appropriation of another's image. The plaintiff could make this claim, for example, if the defendant uses the plaintiff's picture in a commercial or advertisement without permission.
The second type of wrongful invasion of privacy is in the nature of intrusion. If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant intruded into his or her solitude, seclusion or private life in a manner that would be considered highly offensive to a reasonable person, the plaintiff is entitled to recover damages from the defendant. The issue of what actions are considered highly offensive depends greatly upon the factual circumstances under examination.
The third type of a privacy claim is the public disclosure of private facts. This cause of action requires that facts having no link to a legitimate public concern be disseminated by the defendant resulting in embarrassment, humiliation or offense to the plaintiff. Whether the public has a legitimate concern in otherwise private facts about the plaintiff is always dependent upon the particular circumstances.
A fourth type of privacy right is the right to be free from being placed in a false light in the public eye. This cause of action is very similar to a defamation action. In short, the plaintiff alleges that a communication about the plaintiff was made by defendant, it is untrue and it was made to the public. The main difference between this cause of action and defamation is that for the invasion of privacy tort, the communication need not be defamatory; it need only be false and highly offensive to a reasonable person.
Can a person recover damages for injuries sustained on someone else's property?
An owner of property has a duty to protect members of the public from injury that may occur upon the property. The injured person may be able to recover money for those injuries if he or she can prove that the property owner failed to meet that duty. The hurdle plaintiffs face is that the nature and extent of the property owner's duty will vary depending upon the facts of the situation and the jurisdiction in question.
Some states focus on the status of the injured visitor to the property. These states divide the potential status into three separate categories: invitee, licensee and trespasser. An invitee is someone who has been invited onto the land because that person will confer some advantage to the property owner, such as a store patron. An owner of property is required to exercise reasonable care for the safety of the invitee. A licensee is someone who enters upon the land for his or her own purpose, and is present at the consent, but not the invitation, of the owner. The owner's duty to a licensee is only to warn of hidden dangers. Finally, a trespasser is an individual who enters onto the property without the knowledge or consent of the owner and who remains there without any right or permission. Trespassers have difficulty suing property owners because property owners' duty toward trespassers is not to place traps and hazards on their property. In some cases, the owner must also warn trespassers of the hazards if they are unlikely to be discovered by the trespasser and could cause serious injury or death.
Other states focus upon the condition of the property and the activities of both the visitor and owner, rather than considering only the status of the visitor. In these states, a uniform standard that requires the owner of the property to exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of invitees and licensees is generally applied. The plaintiff must prove that the duty of care has not been met, through an examination of the circumstances surrounding the entry on the property, the use to which the property is put, the foreseeability of the plaintiff's injury and the reasonableness of placing a warning or repairing the condition. Obviously, whether reasonable care has been rendered depends greatly upon the particular circumstances.
The property owner's duty of care toward children is greater than the duty owed to adults. Even if the children are trespassers or engage in dangerous behavior, the property owner must still take precautions to prevent foreseeable harm to children. The classic example of a property owner's greater duty of care to children arises in the context of backyard swimming pools. Owners must fence, gate and lock their pools in a manner that keeps children out and if they fail to do so, they will be found liable for injuries to children, even if the children were trespassers warned to stay off the property.
Is an owner of property liable for using deadly force to defend their property?
Generally speaking, an owner of property may not use deadly force to defend the property. Society values human life and bodily integrity much more than property. Therefore, the life, health and safety of an individual, even an intruder, is considered to be more valuable than the china or stereo, which that individual is trying to steal.
An owner is not prohibited, however, from invoking self-help methods in defending property from another. An owner of property is entitled to use reasonable force to prevent someone, or something, from entering onto his or her property or to remove something from his or her property. What, under normal circumstances, may constitute a battery, assault or other intentional tort, will not be considered unlawful in situations where it is performed as a reasonable use of self-help in defense of property. However, the use of force calculated to do great bodily harm, or cause death, is not permitted.
There is one narrow limitation upon the use of deadly force, where it is allowed. Where an intruder threatens personal safety, as well as a threat to property, or where the intruder is committing a forcible felony, deadly force may be appropriate.
What remedies does a railroad worker, who is injured while working, have?
Most individuals who are injured at work are prohibited from filing ordinary personal injury lawsuits against their employers. Instead, injured workers are generally required to file a claim under the state's workers compensation procedure. An injured railroad worker must bring a claim for benefits under the Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA) for compensation for his or her injuries. FELA is similar to many state workers compensation systems with the exception that a railroad employee must be able to prove some level of employer negligence in order to make a recovery. In comparison, most state systems are based upon no-fault theories of recovery where neither the negligence of the employer or the employee is examined.
Laws, rules and regulations require a railroad to furnish a reasonably safe workplace for the benefit and protection of its employees. In keeping with this requirement, a railroad has a duty to inspect and discover defects that may result in injury. In some circumstances, this may include the duty to uncover defects that should be obvious to a railroad employee. A railroad also has a duty to warn its employees of any hazardous or unsafe conditions of which it is aware, or should be aware. A railroad is also required to take other steps to ensure the safety of its workers, including providing adequate training and supervision, appropriate tools and safe equipment and enforcing only reasonable work quotas.
What is a slip and fall action?
A slip and fall action is a type of personal injury lawsuit filed by a plaintiff who has been injured by a slip and fall, usually on the defendant's property. The plaintiff in slip and fall cases must usually show that the owner of the property had notice or knowledge of the condition and failed to clean it up and rectify it within a reasonable amount of time. Additionally, if the plaintiff has knowingly encountered a hazard, then he or she may have trouble holding the defendant liable.
Can anyone bring a wrongful death claim?
No. Generally, most states that recognize a wrongful death cause of action limit the number of potential plaintiffs. Some states limit this group to the deceased's primary beneficiaries, defined as the surviving spouse and the deceased's children. Other states allow the parents of the deceased individual to bring a wrongful death claim. In addition to these individuals, some states recognize the rights of any dependent, whether closely related or not, to bring a wrongful death claim provided the person actually depended on the deceased for economic support.
Some states require any recovery gained in a wrongful death action to be divided amongst the deceased's heirs at law or to be distributed to the deceased's heirs at law as it would be in any normal probate proceeding. In these situations, distant relatives may receive some trickle down of damages, even though they were not financially dependent upon the deceased during his life. In addition, if more than one plaintiff is entitled to recover an award, all plaintiffs will share in the award. The manner in which the award is divided can be confusing and will depend upon the laws in the particular jurisdiction where the matter is brought.
Learn more: plaintiff's personal injury law
Personal injury actions require, by their very nature, that someone be injured. The requisite injury can either be physical or, in some cases, emotional. The general goal of personal injury actions is to place the blame for the injury on the party who caused it and to require them to compensate the injured person for the losses sustained.
Not every injured plaintiff is entitled to recover damages for the injury he or she has sustained. Besides an injury, the plaintiff must establish, through evidence, that the defendant is legally liable for his or her injuries. This requires proof of causation both in terms of actual, factual causation and legal causation. Whether legal causation is established depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular matter in question. The defendant can be held liable as a result of either the actions he or she took or the actions he or she had a duty and failed to take.
Some personal injury actions revolve around intentional conduct, which means that if an individual intentionally harms another, or knows that the conduct he or she is engaged in has a substantial likelihood of harm, he or she may be liable for the resulting harm. Other personal injury actions are based on negligence. Under a negligence theory, an individual is liable for the injuries caused by his or her own actions, or inaction. Still other types of personal injury actions are based on strict liability, a no-fault system where liability may attach regardless of the fault of the various parties, including the plaintiff.
In some situations, the defendant's conduct, while questionable, does not rise to a level that entitles the plaintiff to a recovery. For example, if a plaintiff knowingly and willfully chooses to encounter a known hazard, the law holds that he or she has assumed the risk of injury and, therefore, the defendant is not liable. Plaintiffs are denied recovery in other cases if their subjective belief about a situation does not match an objective reasonable person standard.
Personal injury law can involve many different types of claims, theories and principles. Some of the more common types of personal injury actions include:
- Animal bites — can result in the animal owner's liability to the person who is bitten or who is injured while trying to avoid a bite
- Assault and battery — two intentional torts that involve improper contact with another, without permission or consent or the threat of such contact
- Aviation accidents — often result in serious injury or death
- Defamation and privacy — two separate areas that concern the rights of individuals to have their names and reputations protected and also to have their privacy preserved
- Motor vehicle accidents — raise numerous questions as to the liability of one participant to another and raise interesting questions regarding who should be responsible for covering the losses
- Premises liability — concerns the responsibilities of owners of property to safeguard others from dangerous conditions or hazards on their property and to prevent others from being injured while on their property
- Property damage — causes of action concern the rights of owners of property to protect their property from damage, theft or intrusion
- Railroad accidents — may result in personal injury or death and may subject the railroad to liability
- Slip and fall cases — relate closely to the duty of an owner or possessor of land to maintain their property in a safe manner for the benefit of others lawfully entering upon the land
- Wrongful death actions — may be brought by the dependents or beneficiaries of a deceased individual against the party whose action or inaction caused the death of their loved one