If a person or entity (like a company) has harmed you, you must first establish that the other party was legally responsible before you can recover compensation for your injuries.
In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff (the person who’s been harmed) asks the finder of fact (a judge or jury) to determine if one or more defendants (those believed to have caused the harm) are legally at fault and then hold that party or parties accountable for damages. A defendant could be another driver or multiple drivers involved in an auto accident, a manufacturer of a defective product, or an entity like a business or property owner who failed to keep his or her property in a condition reasonably safe for people lawfully allowed to be on the premises. It could be a hospital or medical professional who caused injuries during a medical procedure or the owner of an animal that attacked you. Many situations can give rise to legal fault.
In most personal injury claims, the defendant’s negligence causes harm to the plaintiff. To establish negligence – and the defendant’s liability for any damages – the plaintiff must successfully answer four questions:
- Did the defendant owe the plaintiff a “duty of care”? Duty of care is a legal obligation to use reasonable care in performing activities or ensuring the safety of others. For example, drivers must use reasonable care when operating a motor vehicle, and property owners must keep their premises free of danger. Some duties of care arise from the relationship between the parties, like parents with a duty to safeguard their children from foreseeable harm.
- Did the defendant’s actions or omissions breach their duty? A plaintiff must show that what the defendant did or failed to do amounted to a breach of his or her duty, such as a driver operating a vehicle while intoxicated, or a doctor who fails to deliver proper medical treatment. The defendant’s actions are judged by the standards of a “reasonably prudent” person in the same circumstances; the conduct need not be perfect, just reasonable for the situation.
- Did the defendant’s actions directly cause foreseeable harm to the plaintiff? The plaintiff must demonstrate that his or her injuries were consequences of what the defendant did or did not do. It is reasonable to connect a defendant’s driving while drunk in a snowstorm to another driver’s injuries in an auto accident. It would be more difficult to connect a plaintiff’s heart attack to reading about the defendant’s car crash in the newspaper.
- What damages did the plaintiff sustain because of the defendant’s breach of duty? A person cannot recover if he or she suffers no actual damages. So, for example, a person who merely witnesses a person driving drunk but is not involved in any subsequent accident would likely not have a claim against the driver. Damages can include “economic” damages, a category that includes reimbursement for medical bills, lost wages, funeral expenses, and other quantifiable expenses related to the accident. “Noneconomic” damages include compensation for losses like pain and suffering, disability, loss of companionship, and disfigurement.
There are many situations in which the law holds people or entities responsible for another person’s personal injuries and damages. If you’ve been injured, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today – like the accomplished attorneys at Obral, Silk & Pal, LLC. We will evaluate the facts and circumstances of your situation, determine whether you may have a claim for damages, and help you pursue the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Contact us today.