The basic premise of personal injury law is summed up in this idea: making the plaintiff whole. This simple four-word phrase outlines important concepts of personal injury that underlie the important work that lawyers do on behalf of the injured. A plaintiff is the individual (or entity) who files a civil action in a court of law. The other side is the defendant. In the example “John Smith v. ABC Corporation,” John Smith is the plaintiff, who is suing the defendant, ABC Corporation.
We now know the parties of a lawsuit, but what is the purpose of a lawsuit? In a personal injury action, the answer is most often this: the negligence of the defendant caused an injury to the plaintiff. For the plaintiff to have something that needs to be made whole, there has to be an injury. For the plaintiff to sue for that injury, the defendant must have done something wrong. We call that wrong “negligence.” There are four steps to figuring out whether a defendant was negligent. We’ll consider an example in which a reckless driver runs a red light, causing a car crash that causes injuries in the other car.
- Did the defendant owe a duty of reasonable care to the plaintiff? The reckless driver owed his or her fellow motorists that duty.
- Did the defendant fail to live up to that duty? The driver ran a red light, “breaching” (failing to live up to) that duty.
- Did that failure cause the accident? The defendant running the red light hit the plaintiff’s car going through the green light, so the defendant negligence caused the accident.
- Was the accident the source of the plaintiff’s damages? Probably. However, a defective airbag or other outside factor may share blame, leading to only a partial assessment against the reckless driver. This splitting of blame is known as comparative negligence.
Duty, Breach, Causation, Damages – each of these are important, and each element requires the skill and experience of a personal injury lawyer to properly assess the case for you, a family member, or a friend.
What is the goal of personal injury law? Let’s get back to the initial phrase: Making the plaintiff whole. A personal injury lawyer asks a business, insurance company, or jury to get the plaintiff as close to the way he or she was before an accident as possible. Sometimes this is possible; other times it is not. When it is not, the law recognizes the need to compensate a plaintiff the only way the law can: the assessment of money damages to make up for that which cannot be replaced. Property, like a car, can be replaced. Time or health cannot, requiring an award of damages to make the plaintiff whole. That is why personal injury law is so important. We cannot erase what happened or rewind the clock, but we can – by asserting duty, breach, causation, and damages – seek to make the plaintiff as whole as possible, by replacing their lost or damaged property, and by seeking compensation to make up for those things that cannot be replaced. If you, your family, or a friend are injured by the negligence of another, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney group, like King Law Firm, for a free consultation to help repair the broken pieces to make you, your loved one, or your friend as whole as the law can provide.