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What is a Personal Injury Claim?
A personal injury claim, whether it involves a car or truck, consumer product, or medical error, means any incident where a person has been injured or killed (“wrongful death”) because someone or something (such as a business) was negligent. Personal injury claims include bodily and psychological injuries arising in numerous contexts, including but not limited to:
- Automobiles, trucks and other motor vehicles
- Defective products
- Medical negligence (medical malpractice)
- Slip and fall
- Negligent security
Negligence and Causation
Plaintiffs seeking compensation for personal injuries in civil cases bear the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence, a different and lower threshold than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in criminal cases. The elements of proof include duty and breach, causation, and damages.
- Duty and Breach
First, a plaintiff must prove negligence, i.e. that his or her injuries were caused by a defendant (or tortfeasor) who owed a duty of reasonable care to plaintiff. The defendant may be an individual, or an entity such as a corporation. The general duty of reasonable care is imposed on all persons and entities not to place others at foreseeable risk of harm through conduct. A defendant who is shown to have failed to meet applicable standard of care is considered to have “breached” its duty under the law.
In addition to showing that defendant was negligent, plaintiff must also prove that the negligence caused injuries. This element of “causation” is a requirement for any personal injury or tort claim. Proof of causation typically requires a showing that defendant’s negligent conduct was a “substantial factor” in contributing to the plaintiff’s injuries.
Those who prevail in a civil action for personal injuries are typically entitled to recover damages. The precise amount of a personal injury damage award is determined by a jury on a case-by-case basis. A personal injury damage award may include two types of damages: compensatory damages and punitive damages.
- Compensatory Damages
Compensatory damages are designed to place a victim in the position he or she would be in if the injury had never occurred. By placing a dollar amount on the victim's injuries, compensatory damages seek to restore the victim financially, physically and emotionally. Compensatory damages may be divided into two categories: damages that compensate victims for monetary losses (also known as special damages), and damages that compensate victims for non-monetary losses (also known as general damages). Monetary losses include such categories as medical expenses, costs of living with a disability, lost wages, and funeral expenses. Non-monetary losses often include damages for pain and suffering (physical pain, as well as emotional distress). Finally, “loss of consortium” damages may be recoverable by spouses of personal injury victims, for the loss of the emotional and intangible elements of marriage, such as loss of affection, solace, comfort, companionship, society, assistance, and sexual relations.
- Punitive Damages
Punitive damages are not designed to compensate the victim, but to rather punish the defendant for inflicting the victim's injuries and to deter others from engaging in similar behavior. Punitive damages are typically awarded when the defendant's conduct has been especially egregious or outrageous. Punitive damages are not awarded in every personal injury case, and may not be considered unless a compensatory damage award has been ordered. Also, different states have different rules for the application of punitive damages, if any.
Getting Help in a Massachusetts Personal Injury Case
At Swartz & Swartz, P.C. , our Boston injury lawyers have represented victims of motor vehicle negligence for more than three decades. Our attorneys have proven experience and expertise, as well as a background of success in cases involving all types of personal injury claims. If you or a family member has suffered significant personal injuries as the result of the negligence of another, please contact us. You can call us at (617) 742-1900 or, if you are outside the Boston area, call toll-free at 1-800-545-3732. You may also contact us online.