A Beginner’s Guide to Personal Injury Lawsuits

Personal injury is among the most common lawsuits filed in a year. It protects the rights of those who suffer injuries from another’s negligence. It is not primarily a means to punish negligent people but rather a legal instrument allowing victims to claim compensation.

This article tackles the most common personal injury questions to help readers gain a good appreciation for this facet of the law. 

Let’s begin. 

What is a Personal Injury?

A personal injury is any injury arising from another person’s willful actions or negligence. If you’re unsure whether your injuries warrant a personal injury claim, there are four elements you can use as a basis. The four elements of negligence are:

  • Duty to Exercise Reasonable Care
  • Breach of Duty
  • Causation
  • Actual Damages

Duty to Exercise Reasonable Care

The duty to exercise reasonable care is the general duty expected of all citizens. It refers to our duty to conduct ourselves responsibly and that a defendant’s actions match those of a reasonable person, given the circumstance. 

For example:

Road laws expect reasonable motorists to slow down and give way to pedestrians at designated crosswalks. 

Breach of Duty

This element refers to a failure to act with reasonable care. This can be intentional or unintentional on the part of the defendant.

Failure to act may also be cited if the defendant is not qualified to perform the duty to which they have been entrusted. Generally, a person is negligent if they violate a duty owed to another by failing to act the way a reasonable person would.

For example:

The defendant failed to slow down as he approached the crosswalk.


This element of causation provides that the defendant’s breach of duty must be the direct cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and losses.

The rationale is that the actions must directly cause the accident. If the defendant’s breach of duty is not the direct cause, the defendant cannot be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

For example:

The defendant’s failure to slow down at the crosswalk caused his car to crash into the plaintiff. 

Actual Damages

Actual damages (also called compensatory damages) refer to the money awarded to a Plaintiff as compensation for injuries and loss. In essence, it is the monetary value of the plaintiff’s injuries.

A personal injury claim cannot prosper if the actual damages are not significant enough to warrant a case. (Sometimes, the cost of filing a case may be greater than the claimable compensatory damages. This completely defeats the purpose of a claim and will only serve as a waste of time and exercise in futility.)

For example:

The plaintiff suffered multiple fractures and abrasions from the accident. These injuries also left the plaintiff partially paralyzed and traumatized. If proven guilty, the court will likely order the defendant to pay the plaintiff the equivalent for:

  • Medical bills
  • Loss of income
  • Special Damages (Medications, prosthetics, physiotherapy treatments, and other expenses arising from recurring medical treatment)
  • Permanent Disability

The Significance of a Personal Injury Case

The main premise of a personal injury case is to protect both the injured party and the public. The purpose of these cases is to make sure that the defendant is held accountable for any negligence that led to the injury.

Furthermore, it ensures that Defendants have the necessary resources to recover from their ordeal.

Personal injury law encompasses, but is not limited to, car accidents, product liability cases, and medical malpractice litigation.

A Beginner's Guide to Personal Injury Lawsuits
Photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk on Unsplash.

10 Basic Personal Injury Questions

As with any facet of the law, countless possibilities and factors make each case unique. While it’s easy to ask general personal injury questions, there are many factors unique to your case you’ll need to consider. Read on, but remember to always consult a lawyer first before taking action.

1. Who Pays for Damages?

If a Plaintiff is successful in court, the defendant’s insurance company typically pays for damages if applicable. However, this also depends on a policy’s level of coverage (and if the defendant has insurance, to begin with). It’s best to check your policy as it may not cover certain damages.

2. What is Negligence?

Negligence refers to conduct or actions that fall below a reasonable standard of care. Negligence differs from tort in terms of a violator’s state of mind. A negligent person does not intend to cause harm. A tortious person exhibits a degree of forethought prior to the commission of a crime.

3. When Does a Case Go to Litigation?

Contrary to popular belief, not all accidents lead to lawsuits. There are many instances when parties simply reach an out-of-court agreement [A settlement]. A case prospers into a lawsuit when parties fail to reach an agreement.

4. What is Compensation?

Compensation refers to the monetary value awarded to a successful Plaintiff relative to the associated costs of their injuries. These include:

  • Loss of future earning ability
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Reimbursement of medical expenses
  • Special Damages

Compensations are different from settlements in that the former is a result of a court order. The latter is a negotiated agreement between a Plaintiff and Defendant that alleviates the need to go to trial.

5. What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations sets the maximum time for parties to initiate legal action from the date of an alleged offense. It is also referred to as the “prescriptive period.”

The prescriptive period varies between different facets of the law depending on the severity of a crime. The prescriptive period for personal injury cases is two years from the accident or one year from the date of discovery [of the injury.]

6. What is a Contingency Fee Agreement?

A contingency fee agreement refers to a written contract between a lawyer and a client. It provides that the client shall pay a percentage of awarded damages [money recovered from the personal injury claim] for the lawyer’s fees.

7. What am I Entitled to Recover?

Plaintiffs can recover compensation for:

  • Diminished earning capacity
  • Medical bills
  • Lost income
  • Future medical expenses
  • Economic damages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disability 
  • Disfigurement or physical impairment
  • Loss of companionship
  • Punitive damages

8. How Much is my Claim Worth?

A claim is generally worth as much as your damages relative to your insured value and total cost. Think of the law as the great equalizer. It takes into account the financial and quality of life impact arising from an injury.

9. When Will the Court Settle My Case?

A personal injury lawsuit can take anywhere between a few months to a few years. A client’s financial situation may also influence the length of a personal injury lawsuit. The amount of money involved also plays a role. High-value lawsuits tend to take longer because of the gravity of the decision the court must make.

The greater the impact of a case on the people involved, the longer it may take. This is based on the premise that serious cases require greater deliberation and that all relevant circumstances must be explored prior to a verdict.

10. Can I Represent Myself in a Personal Injury Claim?

The short answer is yes. You can represent yourself in a personal injury claim. However, unless you’re an attorney yourself, you’d be foregoing your greatest chance for a favorable result.

Personal injury lawyers are well worth the cost to hire because of their training, knowledge, experience, and contacts. Anyone can learn about laws through a simple Google search. The thing that sets lawyers apart is the ability to apply the law to the particular circumstances of your case.

In Summary

Personal injury is a facet of law that deals with injuries resulting from negligence. They are a legal measure meant to help accident victims recover from their ordeal.

A key thing to remember is that the law is an equalizer. While what is fair may not always be equal, the court does its best to arrive at an impartial decision. The best piece of advice related to any type of lawsuit is to consult a lawyer. A lawyer can answer all your personal injury questions specific to your case.

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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