Most American adults are aware that they may be entitled to compensation in civil court if someone else causes them significant physical harm. However, it’s also safe to say that most Americans aren’t very familiar with the personal injury process, partially because this legal opportunity isn’t dramatized as much as the criminal legal process tends to be.
Personal injury is the area of U.S. civil law devoted to protecting the rights of those who have been harmed due to another party’s actions or inactions. While more than nine out of every 10 personal injury lawsuits are settled out of court, some are heard and decided by judges (bench trials) or juries.
When Do Injury Victims Have Cause to File Legal Action?
As an experienced personal injury lawyer – including those who practice at MartinWren, P.C. – can explain as this reality may pertain to your unique situation, most personal injury lawsuits are filed after someone has been physically harmed due to the actions or inactions of another person or a third party (like a corporation or a government entity). Most of the time, the three legal criteria that must be met by a plaintiff are that:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty of care
- The defendant breached that duty by acting negligently, recklessly, or in an intentionally dangerous way
- The defendant’s breach directly caused or contributed to the cause of the plaintiff’s harm
This standard applies in motor vehicle accident cases, bicycle accident cases, and pedestrian accident cases, as well as most product liability matters and a host of others. However, there are times when slightly different legal standards apply to a case.
Unique Personal Injury Standards
In each of the scenarios below, a plaintiff must also prove that they experienced physical harm directly as a result of the defendant’s conduct.
Medical malpractice: A plaintiff must prove that a healthcare provider did not exercise the professional level of care that a competent provider facing similar circumstances would have extended if they had faced similar circumstances.
Premises liability cases (including slip-and-fall and negligent security matters): A plaintiff must generally prove that a property owner either knew or should have known that a hazardous condition was present on their property and that the property owner failed to take necessary steps to mitigate the risk of danger to certain visitors to that property.
Dog bite cases: Some states honor a strict liability approach to dog bite cases. In these states, a plaintiff doesn’t have to prove that a dog was previously known to be vicious. Instead, dog owners can be held legally and financially liable for bite-related harm even if an animal had never attacked anyone before. In other states, a “one bite” rule applies. In these states, a plaintiff generally can’t pursue damages against a dog owner unless the dog that bit the plaintiff had engaged in at least one previous attack.
If you have questions about whether a recent injury is legally actionable, connect with an experienced attorney. Clarifying your rights and options under the law will empower you to make informed choices moving forward.