When one person causes bodily injury to another, the injured party’s claim is a Personal Injury claim. In essence, it is a complaint that someone violated the rules of society and caused them harm. The concepts of our modern personal injury law date back thousands of years, and are present in some form in almost every society throughout civilization.
The main purpose of personal injury law is to make an injured person whole. Where a person is wrongfully injured and must seek medical treatment, loses time from work, and endures pain, modern personal injury law attempts to right this by forcing the at-fault person to pay monetary damages. The money paid to the injured person should be the exact amount of her loss: the amount of the medical bills, the amount of the lost wages, the value of any property damages, and a monetary amount equivalent to the physical and emotional pain suffered. The purpose, both historically, and in modern law, is not to give a windfall to the injured person, but to set them back exactly as they were before the injury.
Personal injury claims most commonly arise out of:
To prove a claim for negligence, an injured party must prove that the person who injured her:
- Owed her some duty;
- Breached that duty;
- That the breach of the duty resulted in some harm;
- And that there are damages.
Sometimes the duty owed to the injured party is simple. For example, when a motorist runs a red light that is relatively easy. The motorist had a duty to stop for a red light, if the driver running the red light breaches that duty and causes a collision, most people would not argue that the driver was not negligent.
Sometimes identifying the duty is not that simple. For example: after a snowstorm, if someone is walking on the sidewalk in front of your house and slips and falls, what is the duty owed to the pedestrian? The duty may depend on different factors such as how long has it been since the snow stopped; was is possible to remove the snow and ice; did the homeowner put down salt, but it had not melted the snow yet. Identifying the duty is not always straightforward.
The next element we will take out of order. There cannot be negligence without harm or damages. If a motorist runs a red light, but does not strike your vehicle, you do not have a claim. Similarly, if a homeowner has a duty to remove snow and ice, but fails to do so, and a pedestrian slips and falls, there is no negligence if the pedestrian is not hurt. Often people think in terms of what could have happened; but that is not the standard for negligence. There must be some time of damage or harm to make a claim for negligence.
Causation can be tricky. The damages suffered by a person must be causally related to the breach of duty. If a person already has a broken arm, and slips and falls on a sidewalk, landing on that arm, he cannot make a claim for a broken arm. It was already broken. That does not mean that there is no claim. If a person is predisposed to injury or if a person has a worsening of an injury that is damage or harm under the law.