A personal injury is a harm you suffer that someone else is responsible for. The injury is typically a consequence of misconduct or negligence, but not always.
Pennsylvania law allows a personal injury victim to pursue a legal claim against the party who caused their damages. This is known as a personal injury case, which is intended to put the plaintiff in a similar position as before the accident.
How Do You Prove a Personal Injury Claim?
Negligence is the most common basis of personal injury liability. However, other legal standards may apply.
To win a negligence claim, you must prove the following four facts:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care (the duty to drive safely, for example).
- The defendant failed to meet their duty of care.
- You suffered a personal injury.
- The defendant’s failure to meet their duty of care directly caused your personal injury.
You must prove all four of these facts by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., on a “more likely than not” basis).
Gross negligence is an extreme form of negligence. Driving while intoxicated might qualify as gross negligence, for example. The significance of gross negligence is that it might allow you to receive punitive damages (see below).
You can sue a person for committing a violent act or intentional tort against you, such as assault. You might also be able to sue another responsible party. If a bar bouncer unjustly beats you, for example, the bouncer probably lacks the resources to pay your claim. However, you might sue the bar because they are responsible for the acts of their employees.
Strict Liability and Workers’ Compensation Claims
You do not need to prove that the defendant was at fault to win some types of personal injury claims. For example, you can win many product liability claims (a claim for injury by a defective consumer product) without proving fault if strict liability applies.
You can also win a workers’ compensation claim without proving fault. Damages for workers’ compensation claims are limited, however.
The Most Common Types of Personal Injury Claims
Some of the most common personal injury claims include:
- Vehicle accidents: Accidents involving cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians, boats, etc.
- Premises liability: Accidents that occur because of an unsafe condition on someone else’s property. Slip and fall accidents are probably the most common of these.
- Medical malpractice: Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional treats a patient in a substandard manner.
- Wrongful death: A personal injury claim becomes a wrongful death claim if the plaintiff dies from the accident that injured them.
- Work-related accidents: Some workplace accidents are covered by workers’ compensation. In other cases, you can sue a third party for personal injury.
The human body is complex, and there are many ways to hurt it. Consequently, there are many other types of personal injury claims.
Personal Injury Settlement vs. Trial
Most parties settle their personal injury claims out of court. Both plaintiffs (injury victims) and defendants typically prefer settlement because it is cheaper, quicker, and more predictable than trial. As a consequence, fewer than 10% of all personal injury claims go all the way to trial.
It is common, however, for plaintiffs to file a lawsuit for several reasons: to beat the statute of limitations deadline, to gain access to the pretrial discovery evidence-gathering process, or simply to intimidate the defendant.
Potential Defenses in a Personal Injury Case
Pennsylvania personal injury law offers two types of defenses against liability—ordinary defenses and affirmative defenses. In an ordinary defense, the defendant simply attacks the plaintiff’s case, seeking to poke holes in it. Insufficient evidence and lack of causation are examples of ordinary defenses.
The second type of defense is the affirmative defense. The defendant has the burden of pleading and proving an affirmative defense. All of the defenses listed below, starting with comparative fault, are affirmative defenses.
The most obvious way to defend against a personal injury claim is to attack the plaintiff’s evidence. For example, cross-examining their witnesses might punch holes in their credibility. Putting your own expert witnesses on the stand might accomplish the same result. Since it is the plaintiff’s job to prove their own claim, attacking their evidence could deny them victory.
Lack of Causation
No matter how serious the defendant’s misconduct may be, they are not responsible for damages if their misconduct did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries. In many cases, for example, the defendant’s insurance company will claim that the plaintiff’s injuries predated the accident in question.
In the comparative fault defense, the defendant alleges that the accident was partly the plaintiff’s fault. Under Pennsylvania law, if the plaintiff is 10% at fault, the plaintiff will lose 10% of their awarded compensation. If the plaintiff is 30% at fault, they will lose 30% of their damages. If they are more than 50% at fault, they will lose all of their damages.
Expiration of the Statute of Limitations
In Pennsylvania, you generally have no more than two years to file a lawsuit for personal injury or wrongful death (limited exceptions apply). If you fail to meet the deadline, the court will dismiss your case, and the defendant will have no incentive to settle with you. If it applies, the statute of limitations defense is a complete defense against liability.
Assumption of Risk
If you knew and understood the risks of certain behavior and suffered an injury after engaging in that behavior despite the risks, the defendant might have an assumption of risk defense. The assumption of risk defense often applies to sports and other dangerous activities, especially if you sign a waiver of liability.
Failure to Mitigate Damages
You fail to mitigate your damages when you fail to act reasonably to prevent avoidable additions to your losses. In a medical malpractice case, for example, failure to follow your doctor’s orders might exacerbate your injuries. The defendant is not responsible for any damages that you failed to mitigate.
What Types of Damages Are Available in a Pennsylvania Personal Injury Case?
“Damages” means compensation for personal injury that the plaintiff requests from the defendant. Pennsylvania offers three major categories of damages: economic, non-economic, and punitive.
Can you easily count your losses? If so, these losses probably qualify as economic damages. The most important components of economic damages are medical expenses and lost earnings. If your injuries are long-term, you need to calculate and claim future medical expenses and future lost earnings. This calculation will probably require the help of an expert witness.
Non-economic damages are primarily psychological in nature. They might include physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and similar losses. Believe it or not, these intangible losses typically amount to quite a bit more than economic damages.
Courts usually don’t award punitive damages, and defendants almost never agree to them in settlement negotiations. Courts award punitive damages only when the defendant’s behavior was outrageous (an intentional assault, for example).
If awarded, punitive damages consist of a third category of damages added to economic and non-economic damages. Various legal limitations apply to the amount of punitive damages that will be awarded.
Do You Need a Harrisburg Personal Injury Lawyer?
The default answer is “yes” because most personal injury victims usually need lawyers. Some cases, however, might be small and simple enough for you to handle on your own. The best way to find out is to schedule a free initial consultation with a Harrisburg personal injury attorney at (717) 231-1640.