In Anglo-American jurisdictions the term is most commonly used to refer to a type of tort lawsuit alleging that the plaintiff’s injury has been caused by the negligence of another, but also arises in defamation torts. Damages include bodily injury, intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), and negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED).
The most common types of personal injury claims are road traffic accidents, accidents at work, tripping accidents, assault claims, accidents in the home, product defect accidents (product liability) and holiday accidents. The term personal injury also incorporates medical and dental accidents (which lead to numerous medical negligence claims every year) and conditions that are often classified as industrial disease cases, including asbestosis and peritoneal mesothelioma, chest diseases (e.g., emphysema, pneumoconiosis, silicosis, chronic bronchitis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chronic obstructive airways disease), vibration white finger, occupational deafness, occupational stress, contact dermititis, and repetitive strain injury cases.
Depending upon the intent or negligence of a responsible party, the injured party may be entitled to monetary compensation from that party through a settlement or a judgment. In the United States, this system is complex and controversial, with critics calling for various forms of tort reform. Attorneys often represent clients on a “contingent fee basis” in which the attorney’s fee is a percentage of the plaintiff’s eventual compensation, payable when the case is resolved, with no payment necessary if the case is unsuccessful. Legal aid from the government may not be available; for example it was largely abolished in England in the late 1990s and replaced with arrangements whereby the client would be charged no fee if her or his case was unsuccessful.
Damages are categorized as either special or general. In torts, special damages are measurable costs which can be itemized such as medical expenses, lost earnings, and property damages whereas general damages include less measurable costs such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and emotional distress. Personal injury torts result in both special and general damages.
The amount of compensation for a personal injury will primarily depend on the severity of the injury. Serious injuries (such as broken bones, severed limbs, brain damage) that cause intense physical pain and suffering receive the highest injury settlements.
Aside from compensation for injuries, the injured person may get compensated for the lifetime effect of the injuries. An example, a keen cricketer suffers a wrist injury which prevents him from playing cricket during the cricket season. This can be compensated for, over and above the award for the injury itself. This is called loss of amenity, and the award for loss of amenity is part of the claim for pain, suffering and loss of amenity.
In some cases, the injured might run his or her own businesses. The quantum assessment of the loss of profits (dividing into pre-trial and post-trial) requires forensic accounting expertise because the forensic accountant would consider various scenarios and adopt the best estimate based on the available objective data.
In England and Wales, under the limitation rules, where an individual is bringing a claim for compensation, court proceedings must be commenced within 3 years of the date of the accident, failing which the claimant will lose the right to bring his or her claim. However, injured parties who were under the age of 18 at the time of their accidents have until the day prior to their 21st birthdays to commence proceedings. A court has the discretion to extend or waive the limitation period if it is considered equitable to do so. Another exception is if the accident caused an injury, as an example industrial deafness, then the three-year period will start from when injured party knew or ought to have known that he or she had a claim.
In the United States, each state has different Statutes of Limitations – laws that determine how much time you have to file a claim. Different types of injuries may have different statutes of limitations as well. Rape claims, for example, often have a much longer statute of limitation than other injuries.
In India, in case of Motor vehicle accidents there is no limitation for bringing a claim for compensation.
Lawsuit and payment
Payments will be through a settlement agreement or a judgment as a result of a trial. Settlements can be either lump-sum or as a structured settlement in which the payments are made over a period of time.
In insurance in the United States, personal injury in the sense of “bodily injury” to others is often covered by liability insurance such as auto insurance. Therefore an insurance company will provide a legal defense to the defendant and may settle with the plaintiff (victim).
Additional damages for mental injury are less clearly covered, as the insurance policy typically states that it covers only bodily injury. For example, in general liability as of 2001 a minority of courts included emotional distress within the definition bodily injury.
In insurance “personal injury” as typically defined does not include bodily injury damages and instead refers to mental injury damages, particularly as a result of defamation, false arrest or imprisonment, or malicious prosecution; for example, the Insurance Services Office standard general liability form has a section providing this coverage. Similarly, some home insurance policies include personal injury coverage.
Despite the general distinction between bodily injury and personal injury in insurance contracts, auto insurance known as personal injury protection (PIP) does cover medical expenses from bodily injury.
Taxation of personal injury settlements
In the United States, typically, the money awarded in a personal injury settlement is not taxable. The official statement from the IRS regarding the tax-ability of personal injury settlements is as follows: “If you receive a settlement for personal physical injuries or physical sickness and did not take an itemized deduction for medical expenses related to the injury or sickness in prior years, the full amount is non-taxable. Do not include the settlement proceeds in your income.” However, there are exceptions. If the settlement is meant to replace income, the settlement becomes taxable. Similarly, if you itemize deductions, and you claimed medical expenses in previous years as an itemized deduction that were later reimbursed by the settlement, then that amount would be taxable.
What is a typical personal injury case?
Automobile accidents, the area in which most personal injury actions arise, provide a good example of how the tort system works. You have a negligence claim in a “fault” state if you are injured by a driver who failed to exercise reasonable care, because drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care anytime they are on the road. When they breach that duty and your injury results, personal injury law says you can recoup your losses. (Note, though, that the system may be very different in states that have passed no-fault laws.)
Negligence reaches far beyond claims stemming from car accidents. It is the basis for liability in most personal injury lawsuits, including medical malpractice.
Is there any other basis for personal injury besides negligence?
- Strict liability is an important and growing area of tort law. It holds designers and manufacturers strictly liable for injuries from defective products. In these cases, the injured person does not have to establish negligence of the manufacturer. Rather, you need to show that the product was designed or manufactured in a manner that made it unreasonably dangerous when used as intended.
- Intentional wrongs can also be the basis of personal injury claims, though they are rarer. If someone hits you, for example, even as a practical joke, you may be able to win a suit for battery. Or if a store detective wrongly detains you for shoplifting, you may be able to win a suit for false imprisonment. While perpetrators of some of the intentional torts—assault and battery, for example—can be held criminally liable for their actions, a tort case is a civil proceeding in court brought by an individual or entity and remains totally separate from any criminal charges brought by the government.
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