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.
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 our Oklahoma City attorneys see, 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 but our Oklahoma City firm is prepared to do just that, if necessary.
Statute of Limitations
Every state has certain time limits that determine when a lawsuit can be filed, called a statute of limitation. In Oklahoma City and throughout the state of 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. We encourage you to schedule a free consultation with us as soon as possible.