The Law of Torts
Personal injury cases are governed by the law of torts. This allows an injured person to go to civil court to obtain a legal remedy for their damages. The purpose of tort law is to allow a person with injuries to receive financial compensation for the damages they sustain. Common types of personal injury claims include auto accidents, dog bites, slip and fall or trip and fall accidents, products liability, and airline accidents.
The three main issues in any personal injury case are liability, damages, and collectability. It is not enough to have been injured, in order to, successfully pursue a personal injury lawsuit. The plaintiff (injured person) must first show that the defendant (at-fault party) was liable for the accident. To do so, the plaintiff must prove: (1) the defendant was negligent; (2) the plaintiff was harmed; and (3) the negligence was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm. The defendant will also have an opportunity to prove that a legal defense applies. Therefore, this will either mitigate or avoid liability altogether.
Once liability is determined, the plaintiff needs to prove the appropriate amount of damages that he or she is entitled to. The amount of damages in a personal injury lawsuit depends on a number of factors, too many to list. However, factors include the specific legal claim, and the extent of the victim’s damages. Furthermore, it includes the circumstances of the accident, and where the lawsuit is tried. The amount of damages can also be multiplied when punitive damages are awarded by the jury.
There are several categories of damages in a personal injury case. “Special Damages” compensate for monetary expenses because of an injury, such as, loss of earnings, and medical bills. Also, it includes cost of future medical care, loss of future earnings, and household expenses. “General Damages” compensate for non-monetary damages like pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of consortium or companionship. “Punitive Damages” are awarded for despicable or reprehensible conduct. “In an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.” Civil Code section 3294. reflects a public policy determination that certain conduct “oppression, fraud or malice”—is so reprehensible that a penalty should be exacted to deter the commission of similar wrongful acts. Thus, “punitive” or “exemplary” damages are awarded purely as punishment and “by way of example.” “Malice” for punitive damages purposes means “conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff OR despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”
The final issue is whether the damages are collectable. If your case involves a motor vehicle accident, by law, California requires at least minimum coverage under an insurance policy. The minimum limits required are $15,000 for death or injury of any one person in a car accident and $30,000 for the deaths or injuries if multiple people are involved. In California, property damage liability coverage of $5,000 is the minimum amount required by law. If the at-fault driver does not have insurance, there’s a possibility that he may have assets to recover from. Further, in all other cases, if the at-fault party does not have insurance or assets, you may not be able to collect anything on your judgment.
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