Personal Injury Law: What You Need to Know & How We Can Help
Personal injury law, also known as tort law, allows an injured person to seek damages for losses stemming from an accident or other incident. Personal injury cases are designed to financially compensate an injured party who has suffered harm as a result of another party’s carelessness or intentional misconduct.
Personal injury cases are often complex legal proceedings, requiring the expertise of experienced and knowledgable lawyers to help ensure that claimants receive just verdicts. If you have sustained an injury or other loss and believe you have rights to a personal injury claim, reach out to Tawwater Law Firm, PLLC. Our attorneys are personal injury law specialists serving clients in Oklahoma City, OK, and throughout the state. To learn more about the verdicts attained for our personal injury clients, and how our experience can help you, please contact our firm today.
An Overview of Torts
Torts are civil wrongs that unfairly cause another party harm or loss, and are grounds for initiating a lawsuit. Although torts may be criminal, this is not always the case. The harm inflicted might be due to negligence, but not necessarily criminal negligence. The tort system provides relief to victims through compensation, or the damages awarded via a lawsuit.
Every tort claim has two basic components: liability and damages. Essentially, the courts will determine if the defendant is responsible for the harm inflicted on the plaintiff, and if so, what amount of money (extent of damages) is due as compensation for that harm. Simply put, if you can prove the other party’s liability and the extent of damages, you will be compensated for your injury.
Basis of Liability
Torts fall into three general categories that serve as the basis for a personal injury claim:
These cases are based on the defendant committing unreasonably unsafe actions that lead to injury. For example, a driver might cause an accident by failing to obey traffic laws.
These claims hold designers and manufacturers liable for harm or loss sustained from defective or damaged products. Unlike negligence cases, the basis for strict liability is not dependent on the defendant’s carelessness. For a strict liability claim, you need to prove that the design or manufacture of a product made it unreasonably dangerous when used as intended.
These are wrongs that the defendant knew or should have known would occur as a result of their actions or inactions. For example, someone hitting you, even as a practical joke, might be the basis for winning a battery suit. While perpetrators of some intentional torts may be held criminally liable for their actions, like assault and battery, tort cases are civil proceeding that are entirely separate from criminal charges brought by the government. Intentional tort claims are less common than negligent or strict liability cases.
In the legal sense, damages refers to the sum of money the law imposes on a liable party for the wrong they committed. Generally speaking, victims may recover damages relating to:
- Loss of earnings capacity
- Pain and suffering (including emotional injury and defamation)
- Reasonable medical expenses
- Present and expected losses in the future
Types of Personal Injury Cases
Since tort law encompasses nearly any kind of harm or loss that might be inflicted due to breach of duty, there is an enormous variety of personal injury claims. Some of the more popular tort cases include:
- Motor vehicle accidents – The most common type of personal injury case relates to injuries sustained on our roadways as a result of another driver’s negligence.
- Slip and falls – Also known as premises liability, these cases involve accidents that occur on another party’s property. In regards to a slip and fall case, the injury must be the result of the property owner’s negligence and failure to keep visitors safe from harm.
- Industrial or construction accidents – Despite a number of laws and regulations in place to protect workers, accidents on construction sites and at industrial properties happen all too frequently. If a worker suffers an injury that could have been prevented by reasonable actions of an employer or supervisor, a personal injury claim may be appropriate.
- Medical malpractice – Although the vast majority of medical practitioners provide safe and adequate care, those who do not pose a real danger to patients. To initiate a medical malpractice suit, the harm incurred must be an outcome of substandard care.
- Defective products – If the manner in which a product is designed or manufactured is dangerous when used as intended, it may warrant pursuing legal action. Defective product cases often include dangerous drugs and medical devices, as well as consumer products such as airbags.
A Closer Look at a Personal Injury Case
The circumstances surrounding each personal injury case will be entirely unique, since two cases follow exactly the same path. However, there are some common steps that most personal injury cases share.
- Defendant harms the plaintiff – Virtually any injurious act committed by the defendant can be grounds for legal action, except for contractual breaches. A separate body of law, known as contract law, handles contract disputes.
- Breach of legal duty determined – The victim, often working with a lawyer, will determine that their injury was the result of a breach of a specific legal duty. An example includes a medical professional not fulfilling their duty to provide care at reasonable levels of competence.
- Settlement talks – If it is clear to all parties involved that the defendant breached a legal duty, then the defendant (or the representing insurance company) may settle for compensation outside of court. Typically, the defendant will make a monetary offer to the injured party in exchange for a binding promise not to file a lawsuit over the injury.
- Settlement or decision to go to court – If the plaintiff and defendant agree to a settlement, the claim ends. If an agreement is not reached, the plaintiff may file a personal injury lawsuit and take the case to court. After a lawsuit is filed, settlement negotiations may continue. A settlement can be reached at any time before the civil case is handed over to a jury, who will determine the defendant’s liability.
A Case Study: Auto Accidents
As the most common type of personal injury case, an auto accident serves as a good example of how a personal injury case might typically proceed:
- You are injured by a driver who ran a traffic light.
- You determine that the driver breached his duty to exercise reasonable care on the road by not yielding to the light. Since the driver’s breach of duty is determined to be the cause of your injuries, he is liable for your pain and suffering.
- You initiate settlement talks with the driver, but both parties cannot come to agreement on the terms of settlement.
- You file a personal injury case with the court.
- After hearing your case, the jury determines that the defendant owes you damages for your injuries.
When You File a Lawsuit
Upon filing a personal injury lawsuit with the courts, you become the plaintiff in the case. The person who injured you becomes the defendant. The process of discovery then begins. At this time, the lawyers typically begin gathering facts for their case by exchanging documents. They may also begin asking questions via written interrogatories or through in-person depositions that are taken under oath. After the discovery process, many cases are settled before going to trial. Only a small percentage of personal injury cases ever go to trial.
Statute of Limitations
Every state has certain time limits that determine when a lawsuit can be filed, called a statute of limitation. In Oklahoma, the statute of limitations for a personal injury claim will depend on the case, but is typically one or two years. If you miss the statutory deadline for filing a case, your case will be thrown out in court.
Learn More During a Consultation
If you have sustained an injury or loss as a result of another party's carelessness or intentional harm, reach out to us as soon as possible. Remember, the clock is ticking on filing a valid claim. When you schedule your free legal consultation, our personal injury lawyers can assess your case, and advise you on your next legal steps.