Every day you probably see a billboard, bus sign, flyer, newspaper ad, or radio or TV commercial telling you that if you’ve been in an accident, you may be able to win a large settlement or verdict worth many thousands or even millions of dollars. And yet we’ve all had accidents in our life from time to time that probably didn’t lead to a large lawsuit. So what is the difference between an accident for which you alone have to suffer the consequences and an accident that might form the basis of a successful personal injury lawsuit for which you can work with an attorney to obtain a financial recovery for your injuries? In most cases, a personal injury attorney is going to pursue a negligence claim on your behalf (although there may be other legal claims, for example a product liability claim if you were injured by a defective product). Below we will go through a brief description of the elements necessary to prove a negligence claim. While discussing your situation with an experienced personal injury attorney is most likely the best way to find out if you have a viable claim, applying the below principles to your own case will give you some idea whether or not you have a negligence claim.
Was There a Legal Duty?
The first step is to look at the defendant you are considering suing and asking whether they have a legal duty towards you, the plaintiff. Some types of defendants have heightened legal duties based on their relationship to you. For example, a hotel that you’ve checked into has a heightened duty to protect you from dangers as does an airliner with which you are flying. Commercial landowners such as stores and malls also have a legal duty to inspect their premises for risks such as slippery floors and take steps to prevent visitors from being injured by their risks.
Outside of these heightened legal duties, every person has a legal duty to act as a reasonable person by taking due care not to take action which could foreseeably injury you. For example, any driver on the roads has a duty to drive in a reasonably careful manner so as not to injure others.
Was That Duty Breached?
After the defendant’s legal duty has been established, the next step is to ask whether that duty has been breached. This is simply asking whether the defendant failed to live up to their duty to you. In the case of a retail store, if the employees of that store noticed a dangerous spill on the ground and yet failed to take any steps to address it, causing you to slip, then the store would have breached its duty. In the case of “reasonable person” standard that applies to everyone, if a defendant failed to act like an objectively reasonable person by taking an action which could foreseeably cause you injury (e.g. driving the wrong way down a one-way street), then that person breached his or her duty to you.
Did the Defendant’s Breach Cause Your Injuries?
The next step is to prove that the defendant’s breach of his or her duty caused your injury, which is actually a two-part question:
1) Did the breach actually cause your injury? Essentially, if the defendant had fulfilled their legal duty, would you have not been injured?
2) Was it foreseeable that the breach would cause your injury? The law does not make every defendant liable for every injury that can technically be said to have caused an injury. For example, if a car illegally stops in an intersection, causing you to be stuck behind it, and then a satellite falls out of the sky onto your car, you can argue that the injury would not have occurred had the car not stopped in front of you, but it would be hard to say that it was foreseeable.
Did You Suffer Damages as a Result?
In a way, this can be the most simple and most complicated aspect of a personal injury suit. It is simple in the sense that it may be obvious that you suffered damages (in other words, physical and financial injuries) based on the defendant’s actions. But it gets complicated in proving just how much those damages are worth. Medical bills may be easy to show, but proving how much lost income you will suffer over your lifetime can require the input of medical and technical experts, and putting a number on pain and suffering can also be quite complicated and often requires the skills of an experienced personal injury attorney.
That said, if you are able to prove duty, breach, causation, and damages in your personal injury case, you have the makings of a successful personal injury suit.
Speak With an Experienced Pasadena Personal Injury Attorney Today
With over 30 years experience litigating cases to successful settlements and verdicts, the attorneys at the Law Offices of Andrew Ritholz in Pasadena know how to put forward your best case for full recovery. To schedule a free consultation with a Pasadena personal injury lawyer, contact us today.