Aside from “How much is my case worth?” the other most common question personal injury lawyers get asked by individuals who have been injured in an accident is, “Do I have a case?” While a wide variety of facts must be established before this question can be answered, the good news is that specific guidelines exist to help you determine whether you have a case.
The Four-Point Test
For an injury claim to be valid there are four points which the plaintiff must be able to prove. You must be able to prove that the defendant owed you a duty of care; that this duty was breached; that the breach of this duty was a cause of your injuries; and that the injuries you received as a result of the accident are compensable damages. What does this all mean?
Duty: The duty of care often involves acting in a reasonable manner, with caution displayed towards others. In specific instances, an enhanced duty of care is required. Customers in a place of business, for example, are expected to receive a higher level of care than someone walking down the street. On the other hand, if you were trespassing, you may be entitled to a lesser level of care. An example of duty of care is pool owners being required to fence their pools off from the public to prevent drowning accidents.
Breach: Once the duty of care has been established, you will need to prove that this duty was breached. If, in the pool example, the homeowner did not have a fence erected around their pool, and a child was injured because she fell into the pool, you would be able to say the duty of care was breached. However, if the child climbed over the fence, and was then injured when falling into the pool, a breach of duty of care would be much more difficult to prove.
Causation: Once it has been established that the duty of care has been breached, the next step is to prove that the injuries were directly caused by that breach of duty. For example, if, while crossing a road, you were hit by a car that ran through a stop sign, and you suffered a broken leg. In this example, it would be fairly easy to prove that your broken leg was a result of the accident. However, some cases are not so simple and have a lot of moving parts, such as if you suffered a back injury, and you had a history of lower back problems. In that situation, a treating doctor would have to delineate the back injuries suffered in the accident from the prior back injuries.
Damages: Finally, you will need to prove that the injuries you received as a result of the accident are “compensable” damages. This means that the injuries must be able to be quantified and compensated for, such as a broken leg. If you suffer a broken leg, then your damages would likely include economic expenses, such as the cost of your past, current, and future medical bills, and wage loss, as well as non-economic, such as pain and suffering, scarring, loss of function, etc.
Comparative negligence, also known as comparative fault, is one other thing to consider when asking whether or not you have a case. In the state of Pennsylvania, the plaintiff must be 50% or less at fault for the accident in order to receive any kind of damages. Even if all four of the previous points listed above are proven, your case may still be thrown out if it was determined that the defendant was only 49% at fault, while you were 51% at fault. If you are 51% or more at fault for the accident, contributory negligence will bar recovery. It is also important to keep in mind that the compensation you receive is dependent on this comparative fault percentage. If you were 10% at fault for the accident, you will only receive 90% of the compensation.
There are also often other factors at play when determining whether you have a valid claim, and how much it may be worth. These are wide-ranging and may include things such as how quickly you sought medical care, statements made to insurance providers, how quickly an investigation was able to determine the facts, and any statements made on social media. Further, the venue in which your lawsuit may be filed, and the experience of your personal injury attorney, can play key roles as well.
Personal injury cases can often be complex affairs. However, even if it is obvious that your injuries were caused by the negligence of another person, it is always a good idea to hire a skilled personal injury attorney to properly present and argue your case. The insurance company will have their own lawyers attempting to disprove your claim, making it important to have a lawyer who knows the law inside and out. And now that you have a general idea of whether you have a case, your next question is likely, “How much is my case worth?“
Noel & Bonebrake
With more than 100 years of combined legal practice experience, the lawyers of Noel & Bonebrake will fight for the compensation that you deserve. Whether your injury is the result of an auto accident, a slip and fall, a dog bite, a faulty product, or other accident, we will fight for your rights. Contact the law offices of Noel & Bonebrake today!