PERSONAL INJURY FAQ
The law of personal injury is concerned with determining who may be responsible for your injuries and how much they should be required to pay for your damages. Personal injury is part of the law of torts, the legal term that includes many types of injuries to people and their property. Every tort claim must include four basic elements including duty, breach of duty, damages, and proximate cause. The defendant must have a legal duty toward the plaintiff. The defendant must have violated that legal duty. The plaintiff must have suffered some harm for which the law allows an award of monetary damages. The defendant’s breach of a legal duty must be related to the plaintiff’s injury closely enough to be considered a proximate cause of the injury.
There are a number of principles that apply to the law of torts and personal injury. These principles recognize degrees of fault on the part of the person who causes the injury. In general, the degrees of fault can be described as negligence, intentional fault, and strict liability.
The term negligence is essential to tort law. Everyone is expected to take normal ordinary care to ensure that their action or the actions of others under their control, do not cause anyone harm. If they fall below that standard, and someone is injured or their property damaged, then they become negligent. Negligence does not mean that the person deliberately intended to cause harm; it only means that they did not take reasonable care or they did not act when any reasonable person would have. The degree of care varies with the circumstances of each case. A plaintiff likewise has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances on his own behalf.
Strict liability means that one does not have to prove negligence to recover damages. In the case of product liability, the law now holds that you do not have to prove the manufacturer was negligent if someone is injured while using a product. They only have to prove the product was defective when it left the hands of the particular seller and that was the proximate cause of the injuries. A lawsuit can be brought against anyone participating in the chain of manufacture for that product, from the manufacturer, to the designer to the retail store.
An “intentional tort” refers to a personal injury caused by a person who has the intent to cause harm. It may also refer to injury caused by willful or reckless conduct. Intentional torts include assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, libel and slander, etc.
In general, when a person is injured as a result of another person’s negligence, the injured party may pursue a claim against the party or parties that caused the injuries. You are entitled to compensation for your injuries if it is found that a defendant was negligent and that such negligence was a cause of your injury. Any personal injury case depends on liability, damages, and whether or not you can collect from the negligent party or parties. Even if you were partially at fault for your injuries, you may be entitled to recover a portion of your damages. Ohio has adopted the doctrine of modified comparative fault which means a claimant’s contributory negligence will not bar recovery unless it is greater than the combined negligence of all other persons. A claimant’s recoverable damages will be reduced in proportion to his percentage of negligence.
Personal injury law attempts to cover all areas and types of injuries suffered by individuals. Some of the most common areas are automobile accidents, premises liability, medical malpractice, and product liability, among others. Whether or not you are entitled to compensation may depend on the type of accident that caused the injury.
Ohio operates on a “fault” system, which determines liability based on a showing that one party was at fault because of negligence, which caused the accident. In other words, if the other driver is to blame for the accident, you can collect damages, and vice versa. Generally, people who operate motor vehicles must exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. Failure to use reasonable care is the basis for most lawsuits for damages caused by an automobile accident. In these cases, proof of fault is often contested and requires thorough investigation. A driver may also be liable for an accident caused by intentional or reckless conduct. A reckless driver is one who drives unsafely, with willful disregard for the probability that the driving may cause an accident.
The other driver’s insurance company is the liability carrier and will pay you, as a victim of the other driver’s negligence, for your out of pocket damages and pain and suffering. The mandatory minimum liability coverage in Ohio is $12,500 per person and $25,000 per accident for personal injury, and $7,500 for property damage. If the person who caused your injury has automobile liability insurance, an insurance adjuster will gather the pertinent records including medical records, medical bills, wage loss verification and the like in an effort to verify your damages. The insurance company may make you an offer to settle the claim. You may find the offer acceptable and once you accept it, the claim process is over. If you do not receive an acceptable offer, you can proceed with filing a lawsuit. Lawsuits are generally filed when negotiations fail. If you file a lawsuit against a negligent driver, your attorney will need to prove that the other party was negligent and that the other party’s negligence caused injuries that resulted in compensable damages. Be careful when dealing with the other party’s insurance company because they may try to rush you into a settlement before you can adequately evaluate the extent of your damages.
If you are in an automobile accident with an uninsured driver who is at fault, the uninsured motorist provisions of your own policy will apply if you purchased such coverage. This coverage would also apply if you were hit by a “hit and run” driver. This insurance acts just like the insurance the uninsured driver should have had. Underinsured motorist coverage picks up where the liability coverage of the other driver leaves off. If your personal injuries exceed the amount of the other driver’s liability insurance, your underinsured motorist insurance covers the excess damages under current law.
If you were injured at someone else’s home or a commercial establishment, the person or entity responsible for the premises may be found liable. This can cover a variety of situations including slip and falls, dog bites, assaults, among others. The person liable for your damages is the party in control of the property. That party is responsible for the care, maintenance and inspection of the property. For example, an owner may not be the responsible party if he or she has leased the property to another party who actually has control over the premises. The responsible party must pay for damages if the injured party proves that (1) the condition of the property was dangerous; (2) the owner knew, or should have known, about the dangerous condition; and (3) the owner had a reasonable opportunity to correct or warn of the condition, which was not reasonably open and obvious to the injured party at the time of the accident.
In general, it is the duty of an owner to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance of the premises. He must warn a visitor of any dangerous conditions that are known, or should be known to him, if the conditions are not likely to be perceived by the visitor and to repair the conditions within a reasonable time frame. Factors used to determine whether the owner exercised reasonable care in maintaining the property includes (a) the foreseeability of harm to others; (b) the magnitude of the risks of injury to others if the property is kept in its current condition; (c) the benefit to an individual or to society of maintaining the property in its current condition; and (d) the cost and inconvenience of providing adequate protection.
The owner or operator of the property must have notice of the defect or circumstances that caused your injury prior to the injury having occurred. The notice can either be actual notice or implied notice, meaning the owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition given all of the surrounding facts and circumstances. When the owner actually created the dangerous condition, then notice may be presumed. If a hazard cannot be eliminated, the owner has a duty to warn of the hazards he is aware of or should be aware of.
The duty of a possessor of land to the injured person may vary depending on the status of the person at the time of the injury. Business owners typically have the highest responsibility to those who are invited onto their premises. Homeowners also have a duty to their guests. The standard of care owed to an adult trespasser is less than that owed to a person who has permission to be on the property. An owner may be liable, however, if he maintains a condition that causes injury to a trespassing child.
Product Liability deals with recoveries for personal injury or property damage resulting from the use of a product. Product liability cases may involve dangerous toys, automobile design, seat belt failures, improperly designed household products, industrial machinery, products causing explosions or burns, aviation products, medical devices, prescription or over the counter drugs, among others. A lawsuit can be brought against anyone participating in the chain of manufacture for that product, from the manufacturer, to the designer to the retail store. When a company designs and manufactures a product, they have a responsibility to ensure that anyone exercising reasonable care within the expected parameters of usage expected for the product will not be injured. An action can be based on negligence, breach of implied or express warranty, or strict liability.
Under a negligence theory, the claimant must prove the elements of duty, breach of duty, damages, and proximate cause. As for the breach of warranty theory, a warranty is like a promise. An implied warranty exists whether or not you have a written “warranty”. An implied warranty of merchantability means that the product sold conforms to the ordinary standards of care and are comparable to similar goods sold under similar circumstances. An implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose exists when the retailer, distributor, or manufacturer has reason to know the particular purpose for which the goods are required, and that the buyer is relying on the skill and judgment of the seller to select and furnish suitable goods. If the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose are breached, or the promise is broken, then the manufacturer, distributor, and/or seller of the product are liable or responsible for the consequences.
Under the newest theory of strict liability, you do not have to prove the manufacturer or designer was negligent. You must show that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous; the product was defective when it left the manufacturer; and the defect caused the injury. In general, a product is unreasonably dangerous or defective if it fails to perform in a manner reasonably to be expected in light of its nature and intended function. There are three basic types of defects. First, a product may contain a manufacturing flaw. A manufacturing defect occurs when a product is not assembled or built correctly. Second, the product may be defectively designed. Design defects are present when hazards posed by the product are so great as to outweigh the product’s usefulness. In most cases, it is necessary to establish that these hazards can be eliminated through the use of an alternative design. Third, the product may not have adequate warnings, directions, or instructions.
There may be no recovery of damages in a product liability action unless the damage occurs within fifteen years of the date of initial purchase. Be aware that there are other limits to product liability law such as when the consumer was careless in using the product, when the defective condition was obvious, or when the product was altered.