Personal injury law covers a very wide variety of injuries including physical injury, mental anguish, financial injury, and wrongful death. Auto accidents, medical malpractice, nursing home neglect, and property damage are just a few examples of situations that can lead to a personal injury lawsuit.
Civil vs. Criminal Law
A personal injury lawsuit is a civil case, not a criminal case. If the defendant (the person or entity you are suing) is found responsible, they will be required to compensate you. This is very different to a criminal case where the defendant could go to jail. However, because the defendant is not at risk of going to jail, the standard of proof required to win a civil case is lower, meaning that you have a greater chance of winning.
Negligence is a very important element in most personal injury cases. The defendant did not have to hurt you on purpose. They merely had to have failed to exercise a basic level of care. There is a presumption in this country that we all have a duty to make a minimal effort not to cause harm to each other. Failure to make that very basic effort constitutes negligence and in most causes proving negligence is all that is needed to prove fault.
In order to be entitled to compensation, you must have suffered damages. Damages can be monetary or non-monetary. Monetary damages are a direct financial loss such as medical bills, property damage, or lost wages. Non-monetary damages are those that are not tied to an exact dollar amount but are losses nonetheless and include things like pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and emotional distress.
You have probably heard of punitive damages in the news about big cases. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant rather than to compensate you. They are only awarded in extreme circumstances.
While most types of personal injury cases rely on negligence to prove fault, defective product cases work on the principle of strict liability. A product manufacturer can be held responsible if the product that caused your injury was inherently dangerous when used as intended. This applies even if they used reasonable care. You do not have to prove negligence. And it did not have to be intentional.
Poor design, inadequate labeling, and even inappropriate marketing such as marketing to children who are too young to safely use the product, can all constitute product liability.
Of course, you can sue someone for intentionally causing harm, but don’t let this confuse you. A personal injury lawsuit for intentional wrongdoing, such as a physical assault, is not the same as pressing charges. It is not a criminal case even though the act prompting you lawsuit may actually be a criminal offense. There may also be a criminal case arising out of the incident, but the two cases will be completely separate. You may win your lawsuit even if the defendant is not held criminally responsible.