Personal Injury Lawsuit

If you or a loved one has been injured in an incident that should have been prevented, you may have grounds for filing a personal injury lawsuit. The right lawyer can help you determine your case's strength, file a lawsuit, and recover damages for expenses like medical bills.

What is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Accidents happen, but too often they cause injuries or illnesses that could and should not have occurred. Personal injury is the area of the law that deals with these types of incidents, when someone acts or fails to act in a reasonable, accepted manner, causing physical or mental harm to someone else.

A personal injury lawsuit is a civil lawsuit that the victim of an accident or intentional wrong brings against the person or group responsible. The purpose of the case is to recover damages and money to cover the costs resulting from the incident. The damages typically come from the insurance company of the responsible party.[1]

Settlement vs. Lawsuit

Most personal injury cases never become formal lawsuits. The insurance company involved typically will negotiate with the plaintiff’s attorney. If you have been harmed and contact a personal injury lawyer, they will first try to get a reasonable settlement without filing a lawsuit.

A formal personal injury lawsuit occurs when you file a complaint against the person or group that caused harm. Your complaint alleges that they acted in an irresponsible way that injured you. From this point, it still may end in a settlement. If the defendant refuses to settle or offers less than you believe you deserve, the lawsuit can go to trial to be decided by a jury.

Is There a Time Limit on Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Every state sets a time limit for filing a personal injury lawsuit, known as the statute of limitations. The time limit begins at the time of the incident. The limit varies by state and by type of civil case. For instance, in Michigan, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is three years, but it is just one year for slander and libel, six years for fraud, two years for professional malpractice, and six years for trespassing.

What Does it Take to Prove Negligence?

To win, or recover damages, in a personal injury lawsuit, you must be able to prove that an individual or a group negligently caused your injury. This could be one person, a company, a government agency, or an organization.

Some cases are clear: a doctor did not take adequate care of a patient, resulting in injury or extended illness; a person drives under the influence, causing an accident and injuries; a business fails to maintain its premises, causing a fall and injury. In each of these examples, a person or group obviously failed to act in a reasonable or expected manner.

Other cases are more complicated, but in general, the law requires four conditions be met to prove negligence:[2]

  • The defendant had a duty to act or not act in a specific situation, for instance, to drive while obeying traffic laws.
  • The defendant breached that duty by speeding or driving under the influence.
  • You suffered damages as a result of being in an accident that caused an injury.
  • Those damages would not have occurred had the defendant not breached their duty.

Some variables come into play as well. For instance, if a jar of pickles fell from a grocery store shelf and you slipped and fell in the puddle, the store may or may not be negligent. Had the puddle been there long enough that an employee should have discovered and cleaned it? Or had it happened just minutes before you slipped? In the latter instance, the store may not be negligent.

How Do I Know I Have a Case?

The requirements for proving negligence are straightforward, but some situations have complicating factors. Or, it may be challenging to establish a breach of duty or that a breach directly caused your injury. The best way to know if you have a personal injury case is to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

The Steps in a Personal Injury Lawsuit

If you decide to go through with a personal injury lawsuit, there are several steps you can expect to go through to recover damages:

  1. Meet with a Lawyer
    Having a lawyer represent you is not a legal requirement. However, you have the best chance of winning a personal injury lawsuit with representation. Find an experienced personal injury lawyer and meet with them to discuss your case, possible damages, and the next steps.
  2. File a Complaint
    If the defendant in the case, often an insurance company, is not willing to admit fault or offer a settlement, your lawyer will file a complaint against them. This states your case and makes it legally official.
  3. Fact-Finding and Discovery
    With the complaint filed, your law firm should begin the discovery period, investigating the incident, finding evidence, talking to witnesses, and building a case. The defendant will also carry out fact-finding during this time to make their own case for not being at fault.
  4. Settling before Trial
    Most personal injury cases never go to trial. The other side is typically willing to negotiate a settlement. If they see that they are at fault, settling out of court is usually less costly. In some instances, the defendant will not settle or admit fault. Even if they do agree to settle, you may not be satisfied with the amount offered. You can then take your case to trial.
  5. Going to Trial
    A trial can be lengthy and may end in damages awarded, or you may not win anything at all. A trial starts with jury selection, proceeds to opening statements from both sides, witness testimony, and closing arguments. The jury then makes a decision and lends a verdict. They will find the defendant liable or not liable for your damages.
  6. Collecting Compensation
    If you do win a verdict, you will then have to collect the compensation the defendant owes. This is not always easy or immediate. It can take time and pressure from your lawyer. They may even have to investigate the defendant and take further legal actions to try to collect for you.
  7. Making an Appeal
    Either side in a trial may appeal a verdict. The lawsuit goes to the appeals court for review. The judges determine if the ruling should stand or be reversed. If the defendant appeals the decision, it can delay your collection of compensation.

Compensation in Personal Injury Lawsuits – What is My Case Worth?

No matter how experienced, no lawyer can tell you if you will win or lose, and if you win, how much you will get. However, they can give you a reasonable estimate. The amount of compensation you may receive in a personal injury case comes down to two types of compensatory damages you may seek:[3]

  • Economic. Economic damages are the actual monetary costs you have incurred because of the incident. This may include medical bills, expected future medical expenses, lost income, lost earning capacity, and property loss or damage.
  • Non-economic. These are damages associated with factors that have no strict monetary value. For instance, you may request damages for pain and suffering, disfigurement, emotional distress or trauma, loss of enjoyment or purpose, and loss of consortium in a spousal relationship.

Your lawyer will need information from you about your job, income, medical care, lifestyle, and more, to estimate the damages you may be owed. They will also use this information to determine an amount to request in the lawsuit.

Filing a personal injury lawsuit is a major endeavor. It is the best way to recover damages when someone has caused you harm through negligence. For the best chance of getting a fair amount, let an experienced lawyer represent you. 

  1. American Bar Association. (2012, April 10). Personal Injury. Personal Injury Claims.
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  2. American Bar Association. (2013, March 18). Personal Injury. Negligence.
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  3. Cornell Law School. (n.d.). Damages.
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