The Basics of Personal Injury Law: An Overview

Personal injury law is the legal field that deals with cases where one party causes another party to suffer harm, often as a result of negligence. When someone is seriously injured in an accident, they may have questions about what their rights are, so we will explain the basics of personal injury laws. This overview will cover the standard of negligence that must be met to file a personal injury lawsuit, the most common types of personal injury cases, answers to frequently asked questions surrounding personal injury laws, and what you should do if you've been injured and are considering filing a personal injury lawsuit.

The attorneys of Block O'Toole & Murphy have won more personal injury verdicts and settlements exceeding $1,000,000 than any other New York law firm every year since 2012. Call 212-736-5300 for a free legal consultation.

The Basics of Tort and Personal Injury Law

Accidents that cause somebody to be injured happen all the time, but the reality is not all of these cases fulfill the requirements for a lawsuit under personal injury law. No matter what type of accident occurred, there are a few broad conditions that must be met for an injured person to qualify for a personal injury lawsuit.

It first must be established that one party (the Defendant) had a legal 'duty of care' towards the other (the Plaintiff). In some cases, such as in a motor vehicle accident, the duty of care of one person towards another is generally clear. Motorists must obey the laws of the road, and if they break one of these laws and cause somebody to be injured, they have typically violated the duty of care that motorists have towards other road users, including cyclists and pedestrians. In other cases, such as a work accident or a slip and fall, the duty of care is not always as clear, and will likely require extensive investigation by an experienced legal team to determine.

It then must be demonstrated that the Defendant failed to reasonably uphold the duty of care they had towards the Plaintiff. As in all other matters of personal injury law, this is a complicated question that should be left to experienced personal injury attorneys to solve. 'Foreseeability' is a critical issue in determining whether a duty of care has been breached. In order to file a lawsuit, it generally needs to be determined that the defect or hazard that caused the Plaintiff to be injured could have been foreseen and avoided or prevented if the Defendant had been acting reasonably.

The last condition that must be met is that an injury occurred as a direct result of the Defendant's failure to uphold their duty of care, often referred to as negligence in the context of a personal injury lawsuit. These injuries, which can be physical, emotional or psychological in nature, are referred to as personal injury damages. An injured party may receive compensation for these damages in the event that their personal injury lawsuit is successful.

Most Common Types of Personal Injury Cases

People who have been seriously injured in an accident may naturally wonder if they can file a lawsuit to recover compensation for how they have suffered. To illustrate how many ways a personal injury lawsuit may arise, here are some of the most common types of personal injury cases we see here at Block O'Toole & Murphy:

Personal injury laws can be complex and difficult for laypeople to understand, particularly when dealing with a severe injury. If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident, we highly suggest contacting an experienced attorney who can handle legal issues so that you can focus on a swift and complete recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions about Personal Injury Lawsuits

Many of our clients naturally have questions about their rights under personal injury law. Here are answers to some of the most common questions we get from our clients.

What Damages Can I Receive Compensation For?

The purpose of a personal injury lawsuit is to restore the injured person to the state they were in before the accident occurred. There are two main types of personal injury damages: pecuniary, or economic, and non-pecuniary, or damages which can't be measured purely by dollars.

Economic damages in a personal injury lawsuit generally start with medical bills, which can include doctor visits, surgeries, medical devices, prescriptions and the cost of any necessary rehab. Wages lost due to time away from work are another common damage, and can include past wages, or potential future earnings which may have been affected or lost due to limitations caused by the injuries. Property damage is another common economic damage, particularly in the event of a motor vehicle accident.

Non-economic damages can be paid out to injured plaintiffs who have been affected by their injuries in a way that is difficult to measure in money. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, mental anguish or emotional distress, and a diminished ability to enjoy life the way you once did. Compensation also exists for family relationships which have been negatively affected in what is known as 'loss of consortium.'

There is a third type of damages called 'punitive damages.' Punitive damages are meant to act as a deterrent in cases where the actions of the Defendant were particularly reckless. These types of damages are extremely rare in a typical personal injury case.

How Long Do I Have to File A Lawsuit?

The time limit that an injured person has in which to file a lawsuit is known as the 'statute of limitations.' The statute of limitations on a personal injury lawsuit depends on the state the accident occurred in and can be anywhere from 1 to 10 years after the date of the accident, though 2-3 years is most common. For cases involving government entities, it should be noted that the statute of limitations can be significantly shorter.

We strongly advise, however, that you file a lawsuit as soon as possible after an accident occurs. There are many reasons for this. For starters, lawsuits can take a long time to resolve, so the sooner you begin the process, the better. Delaying the lawsuit will also make it harder for your attorney to track down witnesses who have important information about your accident.

A lawsuit might not be the first thing you want to think about in the aftermath of a serious injury. If you intend to file one in order to recoup compensation for the damages you suffered, however, you should contact an attorney without delay.

What Is My Case Worth?

It's impossible to predict the amount of money a lawsuit will settle for, or what a jury will decide it's worth. Medical bills are an important factor in determining how much compensation is required to return a plaintiff to the state they were in before their injury occurred. There are many other potential factors at play, however. Only an experienced lawyer who is intimately familiar with your case can give you an idea of the compensation you may be able eligible for.

How Long Can I Expect My Case to Take?

When pursuing maximum compensation, it's not uncommon for a personal injury lawsuit to take as long as 3-5 years to resolve, sometimes longer. One factor which can affect the length of a case is the severity of the injuries you suffered. Typically, for your attorney to determine how much money you may be eligible for, he or she will wait for you to reach "maximum medical improvement," or the point at which you've completed your initial medical treatment and have a clear understanding of what other treatments (if any) will be necessary in the future before engaging in negotiations.

Sometimes, such as after a car crash, insurance adjusters may try to tempt you with a quick settlement offer to try and prevent you from pursuing a lawsuit that may be worth much more money. To be abundantly clear, the insurance company is not doing this because they have concluded that it is in your best interests; in fact, it is just the opposite. The disposition of your claim would be in the insurance company's best interests to settle at that time. You should never accept an offer from the insurance company without contacting an attorney beforehand to get sound legal advice about the merits of your case. To give yourself the opportunity to secure maximum compensation, you should contact a personal injury lawyer and be patient while they gather all the necessary information to get you as much money as the facts of your case allow for.

What Will It Cost to Hire A Personal Injury Attorney?

The majority of personal injury attorneys operate on a contingency fee, which means they get a certain percentage of the resolution of the case but do not charge anything up front. Do not let anxiety over having to pay an attorney stop you from reaching out for a legal consultation.

What to Do If You've Been Injured

Being injured in an accident is a stressful experience. The first thing you should do if you have been injured is receive medical attention. Even if you don't immediately think the injury you suffered was serious, adrenaline can sometimes mask pain. When it comes to your health, it's better to be safe than sorry.

You should also consider gathering information about the accident. In the event of a motor vehicle accident, for example, pictures of the crash can be extremely helpful in the event you choose to file a lawsuit. It can also be helpful to get contact information of any witnesses, because if you wait, it could be difficult to track them down later on.

The next thing you need to do is contact a personal injury attorney. Again, even if you don't think your injuries are serious, you want to have experienced legal help at your side in case your injuries turn out to be more severe than you initially expected. If you do intend to file a lawsuit, you should begin that process as soon as possible.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident and are considering filling a personal injury lawsuit, talk with the experienced attorneys of Block O'Toole & Murphy by calling 212-736-5300 or by filling out our contact form. We will provide you with a free, no-obligation legal consultation, and answer any questions you may have about what your options are and how your case may unfold.

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