A personal injury claim is a civil claim for compensation of victims of both accidents and social wrongs. If suit is filed the injured person is the plaintiff and the party the plaintiff seeks compensation from is the defendant. The compensation sought is generally money damages.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
Personal injury claims may arise out of a variety of accidents, including:
- Motor vehicle crashes, including auto, truck and motorcycle collisions;
- Pedestrian and bicycle accidents;
- Injuries caused by dangerous conditions on property, such as slip and falls and trip and falls;
- Injuries resulting from professional malpractice, such as medical malpractice and nursing home abuse and neglect; and
- Injuries from dangerous consumer products.
Personal injury claims may also arise out of other types of social wrongs, including:
- Assault and battery;
- Defamation, libel and slander;
- Negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress;
- Invasion of privacy; and
- False imprisonment.
Common Elements of Personal Injury Claims
Most personal injury claims have three common elements, fault, proximate cause and damages.
Liability in a personal injury case is usually based on fault. Fault in a personal injury case may arise out of intentional or negligent acts or omissions.
Assault and battery, defamation, libel, slander, and intentional infliction of emotional distress are all intentional torts. In these types of cases the plaintiff establishes liability by proving the defendant intended to commit the act that caused them harm.
By far the most common personal injury cases are based on negligence. Negligence is defined as the failure to exercise ordinary care. Ordinary care is the care a reasonably careful person would exercise under similar circumstances.
Strict liability is imposed without a finding of fault. In Washington, strict liability is imposed in dog bite cases and certain products liability cases. A dog owner is liable for dog bite injuries so long as the plaintiff is in a public place or lawfully in a private place, and the plaintiff did not provoke the dog. Product manufacturers are strictly liable for damages caused by products that are not reasonably safe in construction or not reasonably safe because they did not conform to express or implied warranties.
A personal injury plaintiff most also prove that the defendant’s fault (or dog or product) proximately caused the plaintiff’s damages. The defendant’s fault is a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury if it produces the injury in a direct sequence and the injury would not have happened without the fault.
All personal injury claimants most also prove they were damaged. Damages in a personal injury case may be both economic and noneconomic.
Economic damages are objective, monetary losses, “including medical expenses, loss of earnings, burial costs, loss of use of property, cost of replacement or repair, cost of obtaining substitute domestic services, loss of employment and loss of business or employment opportunities.” RCW 4.56.250(1)(a).
Noneconomic damages are subjective, nonmonetary damages, “including, but not limited to pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, disability or disfigurement incurred by the injured party, emotional distress, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, injury to reputation and humiliation, and destruction of the parent-child relationship. RCW 4.56.250(1)(b).
Burden of Proof in a Personal Injury Case
The plaintiff bears the burden of proving the elements of their claim in a personal injury case. In a criminal case the State is the plaintiff and must prove the elements of its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof is lower in a civil case. In a civil case the plaintiff is required to prove the elements of their claim by a preponderance of the evidence. This means the personal injury plaintiff must persuade the jury it is more probably true than not true that the defendant was at fault and that the defendant’s fault proximately caused the plaintiff’s damages.
Time for Bringing a Personal Injury Claim
Statutes of limitations set the amount of time a personal injury claimant has to file a lawsuit. Unless the personal injury plaintiff files suit before the statute of limitations expires, the claim is barred and cannot be pursued. The statute of limitations generally starts running on the date of the event causing injury, but special rules may apply altering this date.
In Washington, the statute of limitations on negligence personal injury claims is three years. RCW 4.16.080. The statute of limitations on actions for personal injury claims arising out of libel, slander, assault, assault and battery, or false imprisonment is two years. RCW 4.16.100. In Oregon, the statute of limitations on all personal injury claims is two years. ORS 12.110(1).