The Elements of a Personal Injury Claim: What it Takes to Win

Filed in Articles by on August 11, 2016

If you sue an individual or business for damages caused by their negligence, your action is considered a “personal injury” lawsuit. As the plaintiff in the lawsuit, you have four legal “elements” you must prove in order to support your claim and (ultimately) win:

1. Duty

“Duty” is the legal obligation imposed on any individual performing an act that could foreseeably harm others if not done with reasonable care. Driving a car is a great example. If you’re under the wheel of a vehicle, then you have a legal duty to the other people on the road to drive responsibly and reasonably in order to avoid killing them. Whether a duty exists is “a question of law” which means a judge usually makes the call on this element—not a jury.

Takeaway: all personal injury negligence claims begin by asking whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to act with reasonable care. If a duty is owed, proceed to the second element (below). But remember: no duty, no claim.

2. Breach

“Breach” is the second element of a personal injury claim for negligence (whether you’re in Houston, TX or any other city). Breach simply means the defendant failed to observe a law, agreement, or code of conduct, and therefore failed to exercise reasonable care in fulfilling the duty. Unlike the question of whether a duty exists, the issue of whether a defendant breached a duty of care is a question of fact—which means a jury decides. So, if a person is found to have been behaving recklessly (for example driving drunk or speeding) and that behavior, in turn, injures or harms someone else, a jury will almost assuredly find that the defendant breached their duty to the plaintiff. This gets us to causation.

3. Causation

“Causation” is the third element of a personal injury claim for negligence and is often a hotly contested issue (right next to damages, of course). This is where the “rubber meets the road”. Put simply: a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions actually caused the plaintiff’s injury. Causation itself is made up of two elements:

1) Cause in fact
2) Foreseeability

Causation as it relates to a negligence claim can be a long, complicated discussion. We won’t do that here: Just remember that “cause in fact” asks whether the negligence was a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff’s injury; and that “foreseeability” just says the defendant should have anticipated the danger created by his negligence because it was foreseeable that someone would get hurt.

Back to our simple example: if anyone is behaving negligently while under the wheel of a car or truck (for example, driving drunk, speeding or texting) and that behavior harms or kills someone; it should be pretty easy for a jury to conclude that the defendant’s behavior was not only the “cause in fact” of the plaintiff’s harm but also that the danger created by the defendant’s negligence was entirely foreseeable by a person of ordinary intelligence. Another example: statistics have shown that bad things happen when you leave loaded guns where kids can get to them. Don’t do it. Simple as that.

4. Damages

“Damages” is the element people instinctively jump to when considering a personal injury claim for negligence. Perhaps its because we’ve seen the topic handled on numerous TV shows. Whatever the reason, damages do two key things in a personal injury lawsuit: 1) they communicate the list of injuries you sustained and 2) they set the stage for discussing the financial compensation required to compensate for those injuries (guaranteed by the seventh amendment by the way). In addition to the other elements, a plaintiff must have actual damages if there is to be a viable, winning claim. Examples of damages include loss of the quality of life; physical pain, emotional pain, medical expenses, and lost wages from your job. This isn’t a complete list and sometimes certain claims result in additional damages not listed here.

TAKEAWAY: Duty, Breach, Causation and Damages. Proving this “Big Four” is essential to winning your claim. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a serious car crash, an 18 wheeler collision, or a botched surgery—the basic framework for your negligence cause of action will be the same whether you’re suing for a personal injury in Houston, TX, Birmingham, AL or Santa Fe, NM.

Sigmon Law, PLLC is a personal injury law firm based in Houston, TX. We handle cases nationwide. We can help if you or a loved one has been seriously injured because of someone’s negligence. Our lawyers will consult with you for free to determine whether you have a case that we can help with.

About the Author ()

Comments are closed.

Translate »