You have probably seen a commercial for a personal injury lawyer at some point in your life. Usually, these commercials promise to get you compensation for an injury. But they rarely provide details on what counts as a personal injury or how a personal injury attorney can obtain money for you.
This lack of clarity can leave you with questions about what qualifies as a personal injury. According to the Legal Information Institute, a personal injury is any injury to a person’s body, emotions, or reputation, arising from negligence, intentional wrongs, or strict liability.
This general definition applies virtually everywhere, regardless of state laws. New York state law clarifies this definition in terms of recoverable damages and limitations on the timeframe to take legal action after a personal injury. Still, it does not meaningfully change the standard definition.
Legal definitions are helpful for judges and personal injury lawyers, but they do not provide much guidance for the average person. Without a legal background, understanding such descriptions can be both difficult and frustrating and make you feel like you have more questions than answers.
If you have suffered a personal injury, the last thing you need is more stress and confusion. Fortunately, a better understanding of this complicated law area is possible, even without an advanced legal background.
It is crucial to familiarize yourself with what legally counts as a personal injury and how you should go about seeking compensation for it if you believe you have suffered a personal injury.
Definition of an Injury
Many things can harm a person but they don’t all count as an injury.
For example, you would suffer harm if your house burns down or an accident destroys your car. However, you would not have sustained an injury. The damage to your property is not an injury, and personal injury laws do not cover it.
This principle is even true if you were injured in a car accident. Personal injury laws would only cover the injuries you suffered in the car accident. Other laws would protect the damage to your car.
There are three major types of personal injuries you can suffer:
Physical injuries are the type of injury most commonly associated with the word injury. This type of injury usually requires medical attention to recover from and physically limits you until fully healed.
Common types of physical injuries include:
Sometimes these injuries are temporary, and sometimes they will leave you disabled for the rest of your life. A personal injury lawyer will help you understand the extent of your injuries and will attempt to get you the compensation that will cover all expenses from the injury, even if those expenses last for the remainder of your life.
Emotional injuries are more difficult to identify than physical injuries but can be just as traumatic. The mind is a mighty organ that interacts with your entire body. If it is damaged, you can be disabled almost as severely as you can from any physical injury.
Emotional injuries are also usually difficult to treat. Psychiatric treatment may take years or even decades to achieve results, and treatment is often more intensive and expensive than treatment for physical injuries.
Personal injury lawyers will seek to understand the full extent of these injuries to fight for large settlements or awards to help their clients fully recover.
Injuries to Reputation
The financial harm caused by injuries to reputation almost entirely defines these types of injuries. When your reputation is harmed, you might be fired from a job, lose the opportunity to advance in your profession, or be blackballed from certain activities or social circles.
These results almost always cause financial harm to the person whose reputation was injured. For example, you may lose out on a high-paying job because your potential employee heard a false rumor about you and believed it.
Similarly, a bank might refuse to offer you a mortgage or offer a mortgage at a higher interest rate because of an injury to your reputation.
This type of financial harm compounds over time, and even a slight injury to your reputation could cost you thousands, or even millions, throughout your lifetime.
Personal injury attorneys have the experience to determine how much financial harm you are likely to suffer from a reputation injury and can demand compensation commensurate with that harm.
Grounds for a Personal Injury Claim
You cannot make a personal injury claim just because you were injured. Another individual (or, in some cases, a business entity) must be liable for your injuries. There are specific grounds on which you can make injury claims:
Every person is expected to act with a minimum level of prudence. And that minimum level increases when you engage in otherwise dangerous activities. For example, when you are driving a car, you are expected to take more care with your actions than when you are simply walking around the neighborhood.
If someone acts unreasonably carelessly when prudence is expected, they are considered negligent. If that negligence causes you injury, either directly or indirectly, you have grounds to take legal action against them. A personal injury attorney can help you fully understand your legal options when this happens.
Sometimes liability is defined simply by law. For example, if a product is defective, the law usually defines the manufacturer as liable for any injuries caused by that defect. Neither intent nor negligence is necessary.
However, several laws might apply in any given situation. And both state and federal law could be applicable, depending on the details. You will almost always need a personal injury lawyer to determine whether strict liability applies because it is a standard that is virtually impossible for the average person to decide on their own.
Another way you can be injured is by an intentional wrong. If you were injured because somebody intended to harm you, you have grounds to make a personal injury claim against that person.
Most forms of intentional wrongs are also criminal offenses. However, whether a person is brought to justice in a criminal trial or not, you still have the right to bring a civil action against someone who has injured you intentionally.
Some of the most common examples of intentional acts that cause harm are:
- Sexual assault
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Slander or libel
- False imprisonment or kidnapping
If you choose to pursue criminal charges and civil action for these types of injuries, you can support your claim during a civil trial with evidence from the criminal trial.
Where Personal Injuries Occur
Personal injuries can happen just about anywhere and at any time. Negligent activity, in particular, can occur almost anywhere. Personal injury attorneys often focus on specific aspects of personal injury law because a person can be injured in many ways.
Common focuses for personal injury lawyers include:
- Automobile accidents
- Workplace accidents
- Defective products
- Medical malpractice
- Elder abuse or nursing home abuse
- Defamation, including slander and libel
- Malicious prosecution
- Drug injuries
- Sexual assault or harassment
- Dog bites
- Slip and fall accidents
Personal injury attorneys that focus on a particular type of case are familiar with case law and precedent for that type of case. They can quickly determine the viability of your case and evaluate the value of your claim.
If you have suffered a personal injury, you should immediately contact a personal injury lawyer with experience with your type of case in the city or state where you were injured. That will ensure you get the best representation possible for your claim.
Documenting Personal Injuries
The U.S. civil justice system relies on evidence. When you make a civil claim against another, you must provide a preponderance of evidence to prove that your claim is valid. Gathering and documenting evidence is critical to any personal injury case.
You will usually need to maintain all medical records for physical and emotional injuries to document your injury. These records prove that you suffered an injury and will also note how much you spent treating those injuries.
For damages to your reputation, you will usually need documentation that shows how you financially suffered after someone injured your reputation.
Additionally, you need evidence that another person negligently or intentionally caused your injury. Your word probably will not be enough. You or your personal injury lawyer will need to gather eyewitness testimony or physical evidence like video recordings that show the other party caused your injury.
Even if a claim does not go to trial, having proof will increase the likelihood that your personal injury attorney can get you fair compensation for your injury.
Damages in a Personal Injury Claim
The primary way to compensate people for a personal injury claim is with money. Financial compensation is supposed to pay for the harm you suffered in a personal injury case. Money cannot resolve all forms of injury, but it is the only compensation the courts can provide in most cases.
While money cannot solve all problems, the proper amount can help you recover quickly and compensate for your losses.
Courts can award damages for:
- Medical bills and expenses, including therapy
- Lost wages or salary if your injury makes you unable to work
- Life-care expenses
- Equipment or devices that you need to heal or adapt after an injury
- Assistance services
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of a loved one
It is not easy to define the final three types of damages. How much value does the court put on three months of pain or the loss of a child? A parent will tell you that no compensation could ever make up for the latter, and they are right.
Still, the court and personal injury attorney will try to put a fair value on your pain or loss. It is easy to quantify some aspects of a loss.
For example, suppose your spouse died due to the negligence of another. In that case, the court can reasonably accurately estimate how much income your spouse would have earned during the remainder of their expected natural life and compensate you for that loss. Precedents from previous similar cases will determine other aspects.
The court’s primary goal when determining financial compensation for a personal injury claim is that you receive enough money to live as well and as happily as you would have if the injury never happened.
While money cannot undo the pain and suffering you have endured, this compensation can ease the consequences of such loss in the long run.
When to Call a Personal Injury Attorney
Even with a clearer idea of what qualifies as a personal injury, nobody understands the law as well as an experienced personal injury lawyer. If someone has physically or emotionally injured you, or if someone has harmed your reputation, you may be eligible to make a personal injury claim.
The easiest way to determine whether you qualify for a personal injury claim is to consult with a personal injury attorney. Most attorneys offer free consultation and evaluation of personal injury cases, allowing you to determine whether you qualify without spending any money upfront.
It is also essential to not delay in speaking with a professional. The longer you wait to talk to a personal injury lawyer, the less likely you will win your claim. For instance, the memories of eyewitnesses usually fade quickly, and physical evidence gets harder to gather with every passing day.
If your case does not qualify, the worst-case scenario of promptly contacting an attorney is that you might waste an hour or two of your day discussing your potential options at no cost to you. But if you delay seeking help, you might lose thousands or even millions of dollars.
Call an attorney immediately to explore your options if another party has injured you and you believe you might have a case.