In order to have a personal injury claim, you need to have three things: negligence, causation, and damages.
Who Is at Fault?
The first step is to determine if your injury was caused by a negligent person or company. A person would be considered negligent if their actions are beyond what is considered reasonable, or what is legally called “the reasonable man standard.” For example, it is not reasonable to drive your car while drunk. Therefore, if you are driving while drunk and cause a car accident, the judicial system would consider you to be negligent.
However, contrary to what people might think, an injury does not equate to negligence. Recently, a young woman from McComb, Mississippi called to say she had slipped in some water on the steps of a casino on the gulf coast of Mississippi and injured her back. In most states, including Mississippi, the property owner (the casino) is only responsible for this type of injury if the company knew about the dangerous (i.e wet) condition of the steps and failed to act within a reasonable time period.
Is the Injury a Result of the Negligence?
The second step is to determine causation – the injured party must demonstrate that the negligent conduct triggered his or her injury and damages. If the injury cannot be connected with the negligent conduct, there will be no recovery. For example, Mrs. Jones has a car accident in January of 2010. She has no pain for six months after the accident, but one day she bends down to pick up her grandchild and suffers a sharp pain. It turns out that she has a ruptured disc in her back. Mrs. Jones’ personal injury lawyer would need to prove that the back injury was caused by the car accident and not by later picking up her grandchild. In general, if your injury does not manifest within a reasonable time after the negligent conduct, you will have trouble proving causation.
What Are Your Losses?
The third step is to prove that you have “damages”, or in other words, that the negligent conduct of another has caused you pain and financial loss. For example, if you are in a car accident and you do not see a doctor, you do not have any medical bills, and you did not have to miss work, you will be unable to recover any amount for pain and suffering and wage loss – you will be limited to property damage for your vehicle.
Many people do not understand that if one of the three elements — negligence, causation and damages– is missing, they do not have a viable personal injury claim.