Were you recently involved in an accident that was not your fault and caused you physical or emotional harm? If so, the at-fault party or their insurance carrier may owe you financial reimbursement for your medical bills, lost wages due to missed work, and other associated losses.
Seeking this compensation involves filing a personal injury lawsuit or insurance claim.
But, before you take legal action, you should explore your legal options and look up the answers to questions such as, “What is a personal injury?”, “What compensation is available in personal injury cases?”, “What should I do immediately after an accident?”, and more.
If you understand how personal injury cases work, you’ll be in a much better negotiating position and will increase your prospects of walking out with an adequate settlement.
In this short guide, our personal injury team at Sadaka Law explains the basics of this area of law to give you a better idea of what’s realistically possible and what you could do to maximize your payout. Let’s plunge right in!
So What Is a Personal Injury, Exactly?
In legal terms, “personal injury” occurs when a person’s body, mind, or emotions suffer harm. We refer to these injuries as “personal” to distinguish them from injuries to property, also known as property damage, for which compensation is also available.
So, by this definition, you may have a legitimate personal injury claim if someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional behavior has caused you physical, mental, or emotional harm.
If you can show that this person is liable (a fancy term that simply means “legally responsible”) for your injuries, you can pursue compensation, also known as damages, by filing an insurance claim or taking legal action.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
Cases that fall under personal injury include accidents and several other types of incidents. Some of the more common ones we see in our practice include:
- Accidents. These include auto accidents, slip and fall incidents, workplace accidents, animal attacks, fires, and more.
- Premises liability. If you are hurt at someone else’s residence or business, you may be able to file a premises liability lawsuit.
- Medical malpractice. Medical malpractice occurs when health care professionals cause injury through negligence or omission, such as misdiagnosing a patient, failing to provide appropriate treatment, or prescribing the wrong medications.
- Product liability. If a product is defective or dangerous and causes physical harm, you can file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer.
- Intentional acts. Not all personal injury claims are founded on the basis of negligence — some involve purposeful torts like assault and battery. Note that while many torts can also give rise to criminal cases, personal injury lawsuits are civil actions and tried in civil courts.
- Defamation. Not many people realize this, but defamatory statements that cause harm to your reputation and emotions also qualify as personal injuries.
What Causes Personal Injuries?
Virtually any unfortunate event that inflicts physical harm can be grounds for a personal injury case. Common examples include:
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Boat accidents
- Rideshare accidents
- Slip/trip and fall accidents
- Construction accidents
- Use of defective products
- Animal attacks
- Unsafe premises
- Fires and explosions
What Are Some Common Injuries in Personal Injury Cases?
Injuries in personal injury cases vary widely. If you’re lucky, your injuries will be less severe, but many cases in our practice involve injuries that are catastrophic and even fatal. Some of our clients only suffer temporary injuries, while others have to live with long-term or permanent complications.
Common injuries in personal injury lawsuits include:
- Cuts and bruises
- Strains and sprains
- Burn injuries
- Broken bones
- Eye injuries
- Head and brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Birth injuries
- Joint and limb injuries
- Loss of limbs
- Internal injuries
Keep in mind that personal injury law isn’t just about physical injuries — it covers injuries to your mind and emotions too. That means compensation is also available for emotional suffering and cognitive disorders, such as:
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
What Damages Are Available in Personal Injury Cases?
What compensation (and how much) you can claim will largely depend on the nature and severity of your injuries and the circumstances of the case. Generally, the following types of compensatory damages are available in a personal injury case:
- Medical expenses (past & present)
- Lost wages (past & present)
- Physical pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Property damage
If your case involves particularly egregious or intentional conduct, you may be able to seek additional compensation in the form of punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages, which seek to provide compensation to the injured party, the goal of punitive damages is to penalize the responsible party.
Calculating your damages without professional help is difficult. If you go it alone, you risk severely undervaluing your claim and leaving thousands of dollars on the table. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to provide an estimated settlement range that reflects all your losses, including less obvious ones such as the cost of child care or household cleaning services while you were in the hospital.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims in New York and New Jersey?
Personal injury lawsuits are governed by strict time frames known as “statutes of limitations,” which vary from state to state.
How Long Do You Have To File a Lawsuit?
Residents of New Jersey must bring forth their case within three years from the date of the injury. If you’re based or were injured in New Jersey, you only have two years from the date of the accident to file your claim.
What Is the Average Compensation in Personal Injury Cases?
Personal injury settlements are often subject to nondisclosure agreements that render calculating a true average difficult. What we do know, however, is that considerations affecting compensation include:
- The nature and severity of your injuries and related losses
- Insurance coverage availability and limits
- Your medical costs and other expenses
- Treatment and recovery duration
- Whether legal responsibility for the accident is clear-cut
What Can You Do To Prevent Personal Injuries?
More often than not, injuries occur due to inadvertence rather than purposeful actions. Here are some tips on how to minimize the risk of injury in different areas of your life:
- Adhere to traffic regulations while driving and be alert to external conditions such as adverse weather conditions and other road users.
- Ensure clear visibility by frequently cleaning your car windows and mirrors.
- Carry out periodic safety checks at home and your work premises to identify any potential hazards that could cause harm.
- Maintain equipment and machinery in proper working condition.
- Keep workplaces tidy and clean and obey workplace safety laws and regulations.
- Put up clear signage to alert others of potential hazards.
- Wear necessary personal protective gear when required.
Important Steps To Take After a Personal Injury
Here are the first things that you, as the injured person, should do after a personal injury accident:
Seek Immediate Medical Attention
The initial response following a personal injury should always involve seeking immediate assistance. Delaying treatment could cause major harm, as some injuries aren’t immediately obvious and may not show symptoms until days or even weeks later.
Document the Incident & Gather Evidence
Your other top priority after an accident should be to document the incident thoroughly and gather sufficient evidence that can support your personal injury case. If possible, take photos and videos of the scene before leaving. When you return home, write a detailed record of what happened while your memories are still fresh. Be sure to collect copies of all medical bills, receipts, and any other supporting documentation.
Notify the Responsible Party & the Insurance Company
Insurance companies usually require that you notify them promptly of covered events. Contact the insurance company to let them know about the accident and that you will be filing a claim, but don’t provide a formal statement or talk to anyone without hiring a lawyer first.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney
Personal injury law is complicated. A single mistake can set the process back by weeks or months and even cause the denial of compensation.
A good personal injury lawyer can make sure that doesn’t happen. They will scrutinize your case, talk you through your legal options, and recommend next steps. If you’re eligible for compensation, your lawyer can prepare the required paperwork, file your claim, and negotiate with the insurance carrier. If the insurer refuses to settle or makes a lowball offer, your lawyer can take your case to court.