What Is a Personal Injury?

U.S. Personal Injury Attorneys

United States Personal Injury Attorney

Almost everyone has heard the phrase "personal injury," but it is a term with which most people are not terribly familiar. Clearly, it has something to do with someone who has been hurt, but the legal definition of the phrase is even more specific. According to Black's Law Dictionary, 5th Edition, a personal injury is defined as "a hurt or damage done to man's person, such as a cut or bruise, a broken limb, or the like, as distinguished from an injury to his property or his reputation." In most cases, the phrase is used in this manner as the injury relates to claims of negligence and under workers' compensation laws.

Using this definition, claims for property damage do not fall under the realm of personal injury, though they are tangentially related. A wrongful death claim, on the other hand, is considered a type of personal injury action.

Personal Injury: Claim vs. Lawsuit

The first element of any personal injury case is the incident in which you were injured. Such an incident could be a car accident, a slip-and-fall, an episode involving a defective consumer product, an instance of medical malpractice, or an intentional act by another party, just to name a few. Following the incident, you will need to determine which party or parties were at fault for the incident.

Once you know where the fault is likely to lie, you can file a claim for compensation—usually with the at-fault party's insurance company. If filing the claim does not yield sufficient compensation to cover your injuries, or if the at-fault party is not covered by the appropriate type of insurance to cover the incident, your next likely step is to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Proving Liability

A personal injury lawsuit can be broken down into two distinct issues: liability and damages. The issue of liability refers to the legal responsibility of the defendant—the party you are suing—to pay for the losses you have sustained. Proving that the defendant is liable can mean different things depending on a number of factors, such as the defendant's connection to the incident and the duty of care owed to you by the defendant.

The defendant's "duty of care" can be a complicated concern, and it may change from case to case, but for good reasons. For example, your doctor has a duty to provide you, as a patient, with medical care in accordance with the prevailing standard of care as established by the medical community. By comparison, a driver with whom you share the road has a duty to drive safely and to follow all applicable traffic laws to avoid causing an accident.

To be successful in proving liability, you and your attorney will need to show that the defendant owed you a duty of care and that duty of care was breached by the defendant's actions or inaction. You will also need to show that the breach of the duty of care was the proximate cause of your injuries. This means that if the defendant had not breached the duty, you would not have been hurt.

Calculating Damages

The second issue in a personal injury lawsuit is that of damages. For many people, however, their first question regarding a personal injury case is often, "How much is my case worth?" There are many different types of damages that might be available, but they are usually categorized as either economic damages or non-economic damages. Your state may use terms such as "special damages" or "general damages" but the categories are basically the same.

Economic damages are losses that can be quantified and documented. They include medical expenses, lost wages due to missed work, money paid out for prescriptions, and other calculatable costs. Non-economic damages, by comparison, are losses that are not so easily quantified, but they often make up a substantial portion of a personal injury verdict or settlement. Non-economic damages may include compensation for pain, suffering, emotional distress, scarring, disfigurement, and a reduced quality of life.

In extreme situations, punitive damages might also be available. Punitive damages are a separate type of compensation that is intended to serve as both a punishment for certain behavior and a deterrent to others in the future.

Contact a U.S. Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has suffered any type of personal injury, and you have questions about taking steps toward collecting compensation, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in your area today. Your lawyer will provide the guidance and representation you need as you look to put your life back together.


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