Personal injury cases, are a subset of torts – or private or civil wrong – where the victim seeks damages in court. While negligence makes up the bulk of the legal cause of action in personal injury cases, there are alternative theories of liability as well, including recklessness, intentional torts, and strict liability. Negligence cases most often must demonstrate (1) a duty owed to the plaintiff by the defendant, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) compensable injury to the plaintiff, and (4) a causal connection between the breached duty and the plaintiff’s injury. Recklessness is a slightly higher standard, and is usually defined as a “conscious disregard of a substantial risk of harm.” Intentional torts involve a tort-feasor (defendant) acting with the specific intent to act (although not necessarily to cause the harm), and often includes: assault, battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Under strict liability torts, usually limited to situations believed to be inherently dangerous (e.g., dynamite explosions) or in the case of product liability (defective and dangerous products, including the failure to warn), plaintiffs need not prove intent to act or recklessness or negligence, but rather only that the defendant was responsible for the tort. The injury alleged may be for physical, mental, emotional, property, or economic injuries, and may also include claims for wrongful death.
Individuals may defend against personal injury claims with a variety of defenses. In additional to arguing that the plaintiff failed to prove his or her case, a variety of affirmative defenses also exist, including assumption of risk, consent, defense of others, defense of property, necessity, self-defense, shopkeeper’s privilege, and statute of limitations. Some jurisdictions bar recovery for plaintiffs in personal injury cases when the plaintiff is more than 50% (or half) at fault. These jurisdictions are called “contributory negligence” states. Other states follow “comparative negligence” and reduce damage awards by a percentage amount that corresponds to how much at fault the plaintiff was in the tort. For example, if a jury determines that in a bicycle accident case that the plaintiff was 33% at fault, but was entitled to $60,000 in damages – the damage award would be reduced by $20,000 (or 1/3 of the damages).
One of the most well-known personal injury cases is the so-called “slip and fall” case. In the prototypical case, a shopper at a store slips and falls down, sustaining an injury – and then sues the owner for negligence. This may involve a newly waxed floor, a spilled liquid, or even the classic banana peel on the ground. Similar personal injury cases may also happen on construction sites to visitors or construction workers, on boats or cruise ships, or at or on the ocean. Similarly, person injury cases may result as part of plane accidents or in swimming pools. What typically separates slip and fall cases from these other torts is that the latter involve the violation of particular rules or regulations of the site of the injury. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set up particular rules for construction sites; the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulate or investigate planes and the airline industry; and states and other governments regulate boats, lakes, rivers, oceans, and navigable waters. In personal injury cases, often violating a statute or regulation can be termed “negligence per se” – and obviate the need for proving the breach of duty in a tort case.
Injuries sustained from dog or other animal bites may also give rise to a personal injury case. This may result from a dog or other animal owner knowing of a propensity for the dog to bite, either because of past behavior or because of the type of breed of the dog. The crux of the issue is typically whether the owner failed to control a known risk of harm to others.
Some person injury cases, such as swimming pool accidents, involve a host of other issues – including whether establishments provided trained life guards, whether the drains to the pool were unsafe, and whether the pool was deep enough for the use of a particular sized diving board. Swimming pools may result in particular injuries to the brain, spine, or even the intestines. Some attorneys specialize in brain injuries or spinal injuries, as familiarity with particular injuries and prototypical methods of injury can be helpful in bringing a cause of action.