In a claim for personal injury, a plaintiff claims that they have sustained an injury due to an act or failure to act by the defendant. This injury can be either mental, physical, or both. If the claim is successful, the court may award the plaintiff money damages for personal injury.
Mental health injuries include emotional pain and anguish caused by an accident, while physical injuries include injuries to organs, limbs, or other parts of the anatomy. The injury experienced by a personal injury plaintiff does not need to manifest itself instantly; what this means is that it may develop over time, and still be considered the basis for a claim so long as it falls within the statute of limitations.
A personal injury may occur intentionally, such as when a defendant deliberately injures someone or intends to commit an act that results in injury. An intentional injury occurs when one person’s deliberate act or intent to commit an act injures someone else. This can happen when a defendant commits battery, assault, or false imprisonment. A battery is a harmful or offensive contact with another, without their permission.
A personal injury may also occur unintentionally. If an unintentional injury results from someone’s negligence, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit based on the negligent behavior. Some common examples of negligence cases include auto accidents, slip and fall accidents, and injuries sustained from medical malpractice.
Negligence asserts that the defendant injured the plaintiff as a result of breaching a duty of care that the defendant owed to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff can show that this breach caused injury that resulted in damages, the plaintiff has made a claim for negligence.
The duty of care that is owed to a specific plaintiff depends on the circumstances of each specific case. A defendant has a legal duty to exercise the same degree of care that an ordinary person would use under a particular set of facts.
An example of this would be if a defendant is driving their vehicle on a highway in non-inclement weather. They only have a duty to follow the motor vehicle laws. If the defendant is driving their vehicle on a one-lane road, and the weather is stormy and inclement, they owe a greater duty. They must exercise that degree of care appropriate for inclement weather.
An injured plaintiff who proves the defendant committed intentional or negligent injury is generally entitled to compensatory damages. According to personal injury law, a plaintiff can recover two types of damages: damages for an injury, and damages for the consequences of the injury. General damages are awarded for the injury itself, and cannot be readily assigned a monetary value. As such, in order to recover such damages, the testimony of an expert is necessary in order to assign a monetary value.
Special damages compensate someone for a specific consequence of an injury. Specific consequences include medical expenses and loss of wages. These items can be assigned a precise monetary value.
What Are Some Factors To Consider When Selecting The Proper Court For A Personal Injury Lawsuit?
When beginning any lawsuit, the first matter to resolve is determining which court has jurisdiction over the matter. This refers to the authority to call both parties into court in order to resolve the controversy dispute. As the person who is bringing a lawsuit, you must decide whether to bring your claim in federal or state court. This will be further discussed below.
Additionally, the proper venue must be established in both federal and state court. Venue is where the court is located with respect to both the parties involved and the dispute. This is generally based upon residence of the defendant, although some legal actions determine that the venue is based upon where the plaintiff resides.
When Should You File Your Personal Injury Claim In A Federal Court? When Should You File Your Personal Injury Claim In A State Court?
Federal courts maintain jurisdiction over matters that involve:
- Disputes between states;
- Questions of federal law; and
- Disputes between parties from different states, in which the amount involved exceeds $50,000.
Other personal injury matters are to be brought in state courts. According to federal law, the plaintiff generally has the responsibility to establish that the court has jurisdiction over the dispute at hand, or raise the issue that the court lacks jurisdiction over the matter. However, a judgment that is rendered from a court that lacks jurisdiction can be challenged in the future.
State courts generally have a two or three tier system. Each system has a threshold dollar amount, or authority based upon subject matter. An example of this would be how:
- Small claims courts could have jurisdiction over disputes involving less than $5,000;
- A municipal court could have jurisdiction over disputes involving less than $25,000; and
- A superior court could have jurisdiction in disputes involving an excess of $25,000.
Additionally, there are generally rules which establish special courts for certain matters, such as family law courts and probate courts.
Can A Personal Injury Lawsuit Be Settled In Small Claims Court?
As previously mentioned, a personal injury lawsuit may be settled in small claims court under certain circumstances. Small claims courts resolve disputes that involve small amounts of money and are between individuals, or an individual against a business. The exact amount of money that can be sought in small claims courts depends on the jurisdiction; generally speaking, this ranges from $1,000 to $5,000.
Common cases that are heard in small claims courts include:
- Tenant and landlord disputes, although this does not include evictions;
- Minor, non-moving auto accidents, such as one car backing into another in a parking garage; and
- Merchandise refunds.
When determining whether you should bring your dispute to small claims court, there are several factors you should take into consideration. Some examples of such factors include, but may not be limited to:
- How doing will affect your relationship with this party in the future;
- If the time and effort to do so are worth the possible monetary reward;
- If the disagreement between the two sides is relatively minor, or if it is considerably large;
- Whether you have kept good records of all your transactions with the other party to serve as evidence to support your claim against them;
- How likely is it that you can collect any significant amount of money from the other party; and
- Whether there are alternative methods of settlement that can be attempted in order to avoid bringing the matter to court.
The dispute resolution process in small claims courts is generally informal, and is characterized by the following:
- As the party filing the claim, you are responsible for filing within the correct jurisdiction;
- You are responsible for paying the filing fee;
- The trial is decided by a judge, and not by a jury;
- You are responsible for bringing in your own evidence and relevant witnesses;
- You are responsible for stating your case;
- Either you or your opponent can appeal an adverse judgment; and
- You may need to take further action in order to actually collect your judgment.
Do I Need An Attorney For A Personal Injury Lawsuit?
If you are considering filing a personal injury lawsuit, you should consult with an experienced and local personal injury lawyer. An attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your legal rights and options under your state’s specific laws, especially in terms of filing your claim with the proper court. Your personal injury attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.