What is Personal Injury?
Personal injury is the legal term given to cases which involve harms and losses caused by the unreasonable conduct of another individual or party. Personal injury claims or lawsuits are commonly called tort cases. All torts – regardless of whether they originate from injuries incurred in an auto accident, medical malpractice, or from a defective product or dangerous drug — involve an injured victim experiencing harms and losses as a result of some sort of incident or accident. While there are many factors that determine the success of most personal injury cases, there are primary factors that are among the most important: determining defendant liability and calculation of damages owed to the victim or plaintiff.
Determining the defendant’s liability requires proof of one or more of the following actions:
- Negligence: failure by the defendant to meet a duty of care to keep you safe or free from injury;
- Willful intent: a deliberate act by the defendant which leads to the incident; this could include a blatant disregard for the safety of the injured victim or the public in general or acts that the defendant committed with the intent to hurt the victim, or someone.
- Strict liability: complete legal responsibility for an injury where proving negligence or willful intent is not necessary. This argument is commonly used in defective product lawsuits.
There’s no limit to the number of ways in which a person can be injured in an accident and more than one defendant may be liable for its cause. A well-qualified personal injury attorney who has experience handling such cases in Washington, DC is best suited to assisting victims who are trying to determine what, if any, legal action to take.
What Do You Need to Prove in a DC Personal Injury Lawsuit?
There are four basic elements that must be present for a personal injury lawsuit or claim to succeed in DC and most other jurisdictions.
Legitimate injury – Someone must be injured and suffered harms and losses.
Duty (of care) – A person or legal entity must “reasonably” act toward others and the public with a certain level of care. If a liable party’s actions fail to meet their legal standard of duty, then their actions justify injured victims to claim damages (harm) done to them by the defendant(s). The level of duty varies, depending on the nature of the defendant. A doctor who holds patients’ lives in his hands has a much higher duty than a homeowner’s responsibility to be concerned with the safety of a trespasser. Proving violation of duty is the lynchpin for all personal injury claims and cases.
Breach of Duty and Causation – The person or business entity you blame for your injury must be proven to have breached their legal duty. You must also be able to demonstrate that what this entity or individual did – or didn’t do – caused your injury.
Damages – The amount of money an injured plaintiff-victim may be awarded in a lawsuit for harms and losses suffered. There are many types of damages which fall into several basic categories:
- Economic damages: Direct expenses resulting from the accident (medical bills and lost income)
- Non-economic damages: Harms and losses which can come in many different forms.
- Punitive damages: Damages that a judge or jury awards in addition to the compensatory damages sought by a victim/plaintiff. Most of the time they are added due to a defendant’s gross negligence or willful intent to cause harm. Punitive damages serve to further punish the defendant for his or her conduct.
What Does Strict Contributory Negligence Mean?
Simply put, if a plaintiff causes or contributes to the accident in which he or she was injured in even the slightest way they will be barred from recovering any damages. Washington, DC is one of only a handful of jurisdictions (including Maryland and Virginia) that adheres to this extremely harsh doctrine. Many states have opted for a system that uses comparative negligence to determine the percentage of fault for the victim, if any, and then subtracts that percentage from the overall damage value.
In the case of comparative negligence, if a person riding their bike in a bike lane at night was struck by a speeding car, but the bicyclist was also riding without a headlight or reflectors, a jury may find the motorist 75 percent at-fault and the cyclist 25 percent at-fault. After calculating the damage award, the motorist would be required to pay 75 percent of that amount. In the case of contributory negligence, which is the law in DC, the outcome would likely be a different result.
The DC council is currently weighing whether comparative negligence may be applied to bicycle accident/incident claims. This push is based in large part on the number of bicycle accidents logged in the District of Columbia. According to The Washington Post, bike collisions in DC have doubled to almost 600 per year over the last six years as the popularity of bike sharing programs has exploded (see the District Department of Transportation report). Those in favor of the change face an uphill battle against a deeply entrenched insurance industry that has so far successfully squashed previous efforts to adopt comparative negligence rules in the mid-Atlantic region, according to the Post’s report.