If you’re facing steep medical bills, lost income, and other damages due to an accident that someone else caused, you may be wondering if you have grounds for a personal injury claim. Although each case is unique, there are three elements that must be proven to obtain a financial recovery in all such claims: liability, causation, and damages.
In this blog, we’ll define these three terms and explain the elements that must exist for a tort claim to be successful.
Proving Liability in a Personal Injury Case
A defendant is considered “liable” for a claimant’s damages when their negligence or intentional wrongdoing was the proximate cause of the damages. The only exception is when strict liability applies to a claim, in which case proving negligence or intentional wrongdoing is not a precondition to obtaining a financial recovery.
What Is “Negligence?”
Negligence is the basis of the vast majority of personal injury claims. A defendant is considered negligent when they fail to exercise a level of care that a person of ordinary prudence would have exercised in the same circumstances.
To prove negligence, the claimant must present evidence to demonstrate:
- The Defendant Owed the Victim a Duty of Care: There are many circumstances when one party owes another party a duty of care. For example, doctors and other healthcare providers owe a duty of care to their patients to use accepted standards of care during diagnosis and treatment. Business owners owe a duty of care to their customers to perform adequate maintenance and fix dangerous conditions within a reasonable amount of time. The evidence needed to prove a duty of care existed depends on the facts surrounding the case. For instance, if you’re filing a medical malpractice claim, you would need documentation to prove that a healthcare provider-patient relationship existed. But if you’re filing a drunk driving accident claim, you’d only need to prove that the defendant was in fact driving when the crash occurred.
- The Duty of Care Was Breached: A duty of care may be breached through an act or omission. For example, if a driver chooses to get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol and causes an accident, the driver would be considered to have breached the duty of care owed to other motorists, passengers, and pedestrians. If a business owner failed to fix a broken handrail, this may be considered a breach of the duty of care owed to customers. Again, the evidence needed to prove a breach of duty depends on the circumstances of the accident but may include photos and video footage of the scene, eyewitness testimony, expert witness testimony, the police report, the incident report, chemical test results, and records of similar accidents in the same location.
Intentional Wrongdoing and Strict Liability
As previously mentioned, negligence isn’t the only cause of action that may warrant a personal injury claim. If you were intentionally harmed—for instance, if you were attacked in a parking lot—you may have grounds for a claim against the assailant. If you were injured by a dog bite or defective product, strict liability may apply to your claim, in which case you wouldn’t need to prove intentional wrongdoing or negligence to recover compensation for your damages.
Proving Causation in a Personal Injury Case
After you’ve demonstrated that the defendant was negligent or intentionally harmed you, or that strict liability applies to your case, you need to prove how the tort caused your damages. Even if there’s strong evidence to prove you were injured, the insurance company may still argue that some of your damages weren’t caused by the tort. Evidence of causation may include the police report, eyewitness testimony, expert witness testimony, photographs of the scene and injuries, and surveillance footage of the incident. The most important evidence relating to causation is usually the victim’s medical records, including medical records that pre existed the accident showing that the victim did not suffer from the injuries being alleged prior to the accident.
Proving Damages in a Personal Injury Case
After you’ve demonstrated liability and causation, you need to prove the types of damages you’ve incurred and their value. In other words, you need to demonstrate how the tort led to your medical bills, lost income, property damage, and other economic and non-economic losses, as well as the value of those losses.
Even if two personal injury cases involve the same kind of tort, there can be profound differences in the types of damages incurred, their value, and the evidence that will be needed to prove damages. In the state of California, victims of personal injury can seek compensation for the following economic and non-economic damages:
- Past and future healthcare expenses;
- Loss of income;
- Loss of future earning capacity;
- Property repairs and replacement;
- Other economic damages like domestic help, home modifications, and child care;
- Loss of consortium;
- Emotional distress;
- Loss of life enjoyment; and
- Pain and suffering.
The evidence your attorney may use to prove damages will depend on the types of damages you incurred but may include:
- Income tax returns from recent years;
- Statistics regarding the expected future income and benefits of someone in your same career trajectory;
- Photos of injuries and property damage;
- Medical bills, nursing care plans, life care plans, and medical expert witness testimony to prove the cost of past and future healthcare;
- Your personal injury journal;
- Testimony from loved ones regarding how the injuries are affecting your life; and
- Invoices, receipts, and estimates for property repairs and replacement.
Common Scenarios That May Warrant Personal Injury Claims
There are countless ways one individual may breach the duty of care owed to someone else, which means there are limitless scenarios that could give rise to a personal injury claim. That said, some causes of action are far more common than others.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of torts that might warrant a personal injury claim:
- Motor-vehicle accidents caused by drunk, distracted, or reckless drivers;
- Negligent building maintenance;
- Failing to provide adequate warnings on product labels;
- Developing products that have an inherently dangerous design flaw;
- Sexual assault; and
- Failure of government entities to properly maintain the roads.
The best way to find out if you have grounds for a personal injury claim is to speak with an attorney who has experience handling cases like yours. A seasoned accident lawyer can listen to your story, evaluate any evidence you’ve gathered, determine if your case has merit, and help you make informed decisions.
Your attorney can also perform a thorough investigation to gather the evidence needed to prove liability and damages. If a dispute arises and a settlement cannot be reached, a skilled trial lawyer will be able to represent your interests in court.
Get Your Questions Answered by a Long Beach Personal Injury Attorney
Your Injuries are Personal to Me
The aftermath of a serious accident is a confusing and frightening time for victims and their loved ones. It’s not easy to focus on legal concerns in the wake of such a traumatic event, but failing to take action right away could make it more difficult to recover the compensation you deserve. Important evidence may be time-sensitive, and there are strict deadlines for filing tort lawsuits.
Attorney Michael D. Waks can handle the logistics of your case so you can focus on your health. Michael has more than 30 years of experience and an AV Preeminent rating from Martindale-Hubbell. He has a genuine passion for helping the injured as demonstrated in his consistently superior results, which include multiple six- and seven-figure settlements and verdicts.
We are available 24/7 for your convenience, and a member of our team will come to you if you are unable to come to our office. Call us today at (562) 206-1939 to set up a free initial consultation. You can also send us a message on our Contact Page.
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