Personal Injury FAQs


Can I be found liable if my car is rear-ended in a crash?

If someone hits you from behind, the accident is virtually always that driver's fault, regardless of the reason you stopped. A basic rule of the road requires that a driver be able to stop safely if a vehicle stops ahead of the driver. If the driver cannot stop, he is not driving as safely as the person in front of him.

The other surefire part of rear-end accident claims is that the vehicle damage proves how the accident happened. If the other car's front end and your car's rear end are both damaged, there can be no doubt that you were struck from the rear.

In some situations, both you and the car behind you will be hit when a third car runs into the car behind you and pushes it into the rear of your car. In that case, it is the driver of the third car who is at fault and against whose liability insurance you would file a claim.

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Besides rear-end collisions, are there any clear patterns of liability in traffic accidents?

A car making a left turn is almost always liable to a car coming straight in the other direction. Exceptions to this near-automatic liability can occur if:

  • The car going straight was going too fast (this is usually difficult to prove)
  • The car going straight went through a red light
  • The left-turn car began its turn when it was safe but something unexpected happened which made it have to slow down or stop its turn

Whatever the contributing factors, the law says the car making the left turn must wait until it can safely complete the turn before moving in front of oncoming traffic. Also, the location of the damage on the cars sometimes makes it difficult for the other driver to argue that the accident happened in some way other than during a left turn. So, if you have had an accident in which you ran into someone who was making a left turn in front of you, almost all other considerations of fault go out the window and the other driver is nearly always liable.

Police Reports: Powerful Evidence

If the police responded to the scene of your accident, particularly if they were aware that anyone was injured, they probably made a written accident report.

Sometimes a police report will plainly state that a driver violated a specific Vehicle Code section and that the violation caused the accident. It may even indicate that the officer issued a citation. Other times, negligent driving is merely described or briefly mentioned somewhere in the report.

Regardless of how specific the report is, if you can find any mention in a police report of a Vehicle Code violation or other evidence of careless driving, it can serve as great support in showing that the other driver was at fault. Naturally, the clearer the officer's statement about fault, the easier your job will be.

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Is there a deadline for filing a lawsuit to recover compensation for my injuries?

If you have no success reaching a settlement with an insurance company, you may be forced to consider bringing a lawsuit in small claims or other court. But you must be aware of the laws, called "statutes of limitations," that limit the time in which you have to file. If you miss your state's deadline, you will lose your right to recover compensation in court, and will be forced to abandon your claim altogether.

Check your state's laws to find the time limit that applies to your case.

Copyright 2005 Nolo

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What is a slip and fall action?

A slip and fall action is a type of personal injury lawsuit filed by a plaintiff who has been injured by a slip and fall, usually on the defendant's property. Examples of very common slip and fall plaintiffs include the grocery store patron who slips on a spill or a piece of food laying on the floor, and falls, causing injury to himself; and a hotel guest who slips in the shower and injures her back in the process.

The plaintiff in slip and fall cases must usually show that the owner of the property had notice or knowledge of the condition, and failed to clean it up and rectify it within a reasonable amount of time. If the plaintiff slipped on a grape that had been lying on the floor for two hours, and the manager of the store had walked past it and inspected it five times before asking someone to clean it up, liability is likely.

If the plaintiff has knowingly encountered a hazard, then he or she may have trouble holding the defendant liable. For example, if a hotel guest squirts baby oil onto the floor of the shower; steps into the shower and attempts to do the jitterbug; and then falls and breaks an ankle, liability on the part of the hotel is highly questionable. However, if the cleaning staff in the hotel repeatedly tells management that the non-skid treads in the bathtub for room 212 are missing and the hotel fails to replace them, the hotel will probably be liable for damages to a guest who is injured.

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Can anyone bring a wrongful death claim?

No. Generally, most states that recognize a wrongful death cause of action limit the pool of potential plaintiffs. Some states limit this group to the deceased's primary beneficiaries, defined as the surviving spouse and the deceased's children. Other states allow the parents of the deceased individual to bring a wrongful death claim. In addition to these individuals, some states recognize the rights of any dependent, whether closely related or not, to bring a wrongful death claim provided the person actually depended on the deceased for economic support. In those jurisdictions, it apparently makes little to no sense to allow the second cousin once removed of the deceased, who saw him once every five years at a family reunion, to recover for the loss of the deceased's future earning potential.

Some states require any recovery gained in a wrongful death action to be divided amongst the deceased's heirs at law or to be distributed to the deceased's heirs at law as it would be in any normal probate proceeding. In these situations, distant relatives may receive some "trickle down" of damages, even though they were not financially dependent upon the deceased during his life.

If more than one plaintiff is entitled to recover, all plaintiffs will share in the award. The manner in which the award is divided can be confusing and will depend upon the laws in the particular jurisdiction where the matter is brought.

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Learn More: Plaintiff's Personal Injury Law

Personal injury actions require, by their very nature, that someone be injured. The requisite injury can either by physical or, in some cases, emotional. The general goal of personal injury actions is to place the blame for the injury on the party who caused it and to require them to compensate the injured for the losses sustained.

Not every injured plaintiff is entitled to recover damages for the injury he or she sustains. Besides an injury, the plaintiff must establish, through evidence, that the defendant is legally liable for his or her injuries. This requires proof of causation both in terms of actual, factual causation and proximate, or legal causation. Whether legal causation is established depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular matter in question. The defendant can be held liable as a result of either the actions that are taken, or the actions that are not taken.

Some personal injury actions revolve around legal causation derived from a concept of intentional conduct, whereby it is generally held that if one intentionally harms another, or knows that the conduct which is engaged in causes a substantial likelihood that harm will result, liability for the resulting harm will in fact attach. Other personal injury actions have as their legal causation a looser concept of fault called negligence. Under a negligence theory, in comparison, one is liable for the results of actions, or inaction, where an ordinary person in the same position should have foreseen that the conduct would create an unreasonable risk of harm to others. Still other types of personal injury actions are based on strict liability, a no-fault system where liability may attach regardless of the fault of the various parties, including the plaintiff.

In some situations, the defendant's conduct, while questionable, does not rise to a level that entitles the plaintiff to a recovery. For example, if a plaintiff knowingly and willfully chooses to encounter a known hazard, the law holds that he or she has "assumed the risk of injury" and therefore the defendant is not liable. This theory applies for instance in a case where the plaintiff walks on an obvious build up of snow and ice caused by the defendant property owner's failure to shovel his sidewalk, falls and breaks her hip, and is unable to recover for her injuries because she knew of the hazardous condition and willingly chose to encounter it. Plaintiffs are denied recovery in other cases if their subjective belief about a situation does not match an objective "reasonable person" standard. For instance, where the defendant approaches the plaintiff and states "I might poke you in the eye if you wear that red sweater again," it is likely that no actionable assault occurred due to the fact that there was no immediate threat of harm that caused reasonable apprehension on the part of the plaintiff.

Personal injury law can involve many different types of claims, theories, and principles. Some of the more common, or interesting, types of personal injury actions include:

Animal bites can result in the animal owner's liability to the person who is bitten or who is injured while trying to avoid a bite.

Assault and battery are two intentional torts that involve improper contact with another, without permission or consent, or the threat of such contact.

Aviation accidents quite often result in either serious injury or death. When these accidents occur, serious questions regarding the liability of the airline, its employees, or the government may arise.

Defamation and privacy are two separate causes of action that concern the rights of individuals to have their names and reputations protected, and also to have their privacy preserved.

Motor vehicle accidents raise numerous questions as to the liability of one participant to another and also raise interesting questions regarding who should be responsible for covering the losses.

Premises liability concerns the responsibilities of owners and possessors of property to safeguard others from dangerous conditions or hazards on the property and to prevent others from being injured while on the property.

Property damage causes of action concern the rights of owners or possessors of property to protect their property from damage, theft or intrusion.

Railroad accidents may result in personal injury or death and subject the railroad to liability.

Slip and fall cases are very common causes of action and relate closely to the duty of an owner or possessor of land to maintain the property in a safe manner for the benefit of others lawfully entering upon the land.

Wrongful death actions may be brought by the dependents or beneficiaries of a deceased individual against the party whose action or inaction was causally related to the death.

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