Personal Injury

The Basics of a Personal Injury Lawsuit

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Woman on stretcher wearing a neck brace

If you have been injured because of someone else's wrongful behavior, you may be entitled to win damages in court. To win, you must prove certain facts that entitle you to damages. You must also file your lawsuit within the statute of limitations - two or three years after the injury in most states.

You Must File a Summons and Complaint

To sue someone for personal injury, you must file your complaint in the state where the injury occurred, or in a state with some connection to the defendant. The summons is a notice for a defendant to appear in court to respond to a complaint. The complaint describes your claim in detail. A state official or process server will personally deliver the summons and complaint to the defendant who must respond in writing to the complaint. The court will set a date for the first hearing.

You Must Prove Certain Elements

A personal injury case is usually based on negligence, intentional tort, or strict liability. To prove negligence, you must prove that the defendant failed to fulfill a duty to you (the duty to drive safely, for example), that this failure caused an accident, and that the accident injured you. You can prove an intentional tort by showing that the defendant acted with the intention of harming you - like by punching you in the nose. In some cases you can win based on "strict liability," without proving the defendant was at fault. Strict liability may apply if you were injured by a defective product.

It's Easier to Win a Personal Injury Case

In a criminal prosecution, the legal standard is "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." In a personal injury case, the legal standard is a "preponderance of evidence." This means all you have to prove is that the defendant is more than 50 percent likely to be responsible for your injury. These different standards explain why defendants who are acquitted in criminal cases often lose personal injury lawsuits based on the same evidence.

Damages Are Not Limited to Medical Bills

You can claim damages for many different aspects of your injury, including past and future medical bills, lost work time, and pain and suffering. Damages for pain and suffering are often several times as large as damages for medical bills and lost work time. In negligence cases, your damages may be reduced if the accident was partially your fault. In a few states you cannot receive any damages if the accident was even one percent your fault. Most personal injury lawsuits are resolved through private settlements rather than courtroom verdicts.

A Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding personal injury lawsuits is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a personal injury lawyer.

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This article was verified by:
L. Carter Massengill | April 14, 2015
777 Anderson Street
(423) 764-1174 View Profile
This article was verified by:
Sara E. Zeigler | April 28, 2015
16 Sterling Drive, Suite 205
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