Personal Injury Lawsuits

An Overview of Personal Injury Law and Jurisdiction

A personal injury claim is a type of tort, which is a civil "wrong" that is the basis for a lawsuit. What this means is that someone has suffered an injury due to the actions or inaction of another, and the injured party is entitled to receive compensation.

Personal injury claims are typically governed by the laws of each individual state, or jurisdiction. Where your accident or injury takes place will greatly influence how the process will proceed, but the following is a general overview of personal injury claims.

Bringing A Personal Injury Claim

If you or someone you love has been injured due to the mistake or neglect of another, you may have the ability to bring a claim for damages in order to offset the costs associated with the injury and compensate the injured victim for their pain and suffering. A successful claim could win you monetary compensation for medical costs, lost wages, and other costs you or your family incurred as a result of the injury.

Plaintiff

The plaintiff is the person or organization who initiates a lawsuit. In a personal injury claim, the plaintiff is the person who was injured. In the case of someone who is unable to act for themselves or a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff is the person legally entitled to act on that person's behalf, the deceased's behalf, and/or the estates behalf.

Defendant

The defendant is an individual and/or an organization that may be in some way responsible for causing the injury. Based on the circumstances of the case, there can be more than one defendant.

Elements of a Personal Injury Claim

Personal Injury cases arise out of an area of law called negligence. When you sue someone for injuries from an accident, you are bringing a cause of action, or claim, for negligence. Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care under the circumstances. There are four important elements that must be proved by the plaintiff in order to show negligence. These elements are: duty, breach, causation, and damages.

1. The Defendant Had A Duty

In order to show a defendant was negligent, the defendant must have had a duty to act, or not act, in a certain manner towards the plaintiff. A duty simply means a responsibility. In general, everyone has a duty to use reasonable care when interacting with persons and property. The standard courts typically use to measure if something was reasonable or not is what an ordinary prudent person would have done under the same circumstances. If an action taken by an individual was not what a ordinary prudent person would have done under the circumstances, then that individual may be have breached the duty of care. For example, if you are a passenger on in a car, the driver of the car has a duty to use reasonable care in how he or she operates the vehicle. However, if you are a stowaway in the wheel well of an airplane (this may happen more often than you would think), the airline pilot operating the craft probably does not owe you a duty of care.

2. The Defendant Breached The Duty

Secondly, the defendant must have breached the duty owed to the plaintiff. In our car passenger example, the duty of care owed by a driver to passengers would include things like refraining from consuming intoxicating substances while driving and obeying all traffic laws. Therefore, if the car driver sipped from a flask of vodka while operating the vehicle, this would most likely be found to have been a violation of the duty of care the driver owes to his or her passengers.

3. The Defendant's Breach Caused an Injury

A breach of a duty is not enough for a successful personal injury claim; the breach itself must have been the cause of an injury or aggravation or exacerbation of a pre-existing injury or condition. There are two parts of causation cause in fact and proximate cause.

Cause in fact simply means that the plaintiff's injury was caused by the defendant's actions. For example, let's say due to impairment brought about by alcohol, a driver crashed into a parked car, causing a passenger to break her arm. In this case, the breach would have been the direct cause of an injury.

Proximate causation deals with foreseeability as the duty of care required in a particular circumstance generally only extends to foreseeable plaintiffs. Proximate cause is a liability limiting mechanism because it cuts off the chain of causation at the point where events or injuries are no longer foreseeable. Getting back to our car example, if the drunk driver crashed into another car outside of Joe's house during Joe's annual barbecue party and the loud noise frightened Joe's normally friendly dog Bilbo, and Bilbo bit Sam, a guest at the party, the drunk driver would likely not be liable for Sam's dog bite claim because Sam was not a foreseeable plaintiff.

It is important to note that the term injuries covers more than just physical harm. It can also include mental and emotional trauma. For example, if an intoxicated cab driver crashed into a parked car containing a husband and wife, and the wife was killed on impact while the husband was unscathed, it certainly might be demonstrated that the husband suffered an emotional injury in bearing witness to his wife's death. This type of injury is commonly referred to as emotional distress.

4. The Injury Resulted in Damages

Finally, the injury that occurred due to the breach of the defendant's duty must have resulted in some type of harm, either physical or emotional. There are a variety of different categories damages can fall into, including medical expenses (such as hospital stays, medical procedures, and things such as rehabilitation and/or psychiatric services), lost wages (time you were unable to work due to an injury) physical pain and suffering (experts use a variety of formulas based on the severity of the injury to come up with a monetary sum), disability/disfigurement (for example, if an injury left you with a permanent loss of motion), and many more.

The purpose of damages is to make the plaintiff "whole" (in the same position they would have been had it not been for the injury). Depending on the law of the jurisdiction and the nature of the case, the court may also award punitive damages. Punitive damages are in addition to the compensation it would take to make a plaintiff whole. These types of damages are meant to punish the defendant and deter a certain behavior or practice.

For example, Hammon Pizzeria delivers pizzas in Tortsville. Hammon delivery drivers receive a bonus in their paychecks every week if they make quick deliveries. These bonuses have had the effect of making the delivery drives operate their cars at high speeds and in reckless ways in order to make time on their order and get the bonus in their paycheck. People have complained to Hammon management that the drivers are dangerous on the roads and two of the drivers have gotten in accidents in the past year, both of which the fault of the delivery driver. Fred was driving his car at a high rate of speed through town to get back to the store in time to get the added bonus when he hit Barney, side-swiping him as he switched lanes. Barney lost control of the car and he ended up in a ditch. Barney suffered injuries and the car was totaled. He filed a lawsuit against Hammon claiming negligence because of their unsafe driving policy. Because there had been complaints and even other accidents and Hammon still didn't change their delivery policies, the jury could award Barney punitive damages as means to deter unsafe policies in the future.

Dealing With Insurance Companies

In a vast majority of personal injury cases, insurance companies will come into play. Depending on the nature of the injury, these could be auto insurers, home insurers, malpractice insurers, and many more. At times insurance claims adjusters can appear incredibly empathetic, but it is very important to remember that they are never acting in your best interests. Their primary goal is to limit the financial payout their employer must make.

There certainly are times when an injury is minor enough such that you can deal with insurance companies on your own. However, make sure you take the time to meet with an experienced personal injury attorney prior to doing so. You are always going to be at a disadvantage when dealing with insurance companies, and it's best that you make sure you are fully informed and aware of the tactics adjusters use to persuade injury victims to settle for far less than a claim is actually worth, or to waive rights to what you could very justly be entitled. Additionally, the severity of some injuries are unknown for a period of time. Do not rush to make a decision or a deal with the insurance adjuster.

Don't Go Against the Insurance Companies Alone

If you or someone you know has been injured, the process you're facing can be incredibly complex and time consuming. You should be focused on healing, not dealing with insurance adjusters and paperwork. Please give our law offices a call at 1-800-529-6162 FREE or click here to submit questions via email. We are always happy to take the time to discuss your case in detail. At Gilman & Bedigian we handle all cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that you only pay us for the work we have done if we win your case.

Jurisdiction Overview

Not every court has jurisdiction ,or the ability, to hear every case. A court must have subject matter jurisdiction over the particular kind of legal claim in order for the case to be brought before the court. Subject matter jurisdiction is granted by the Constitution and various state and federal statutes. This gives courts the power and ability to hear and decide a particular kind of case. When filing a personal injury claim it is important to know all the possible locations that your case can be filed in and choose the one most advantageous to your case. The following are the different kinds of courts your case may potentially be filed in.

Federal District Court

Federal district courts are courts of limited subject matter jurisdiction, meaning these courts can only hear certain kinds of cases. In general, in order to have jurisdiction over a case the federal court must have either federal question jurisdiction or diversity jurisdiction.

Federal Question

Federal question jurisdiction means that "district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the Unites States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

Example: A sues B alleging B violated A's First Amendment rights. A can bring his claim in federal court because his cause of action arises under the Constitution.

Diversity

Diversity jurisdiction means that the "district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000 . . . and is between . . . citizens of different States . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Example:

A sues B alleging that B injured him in a car accident in State C. A is a citizen of State D and B is a citizen of State C. A is suing B for $80,000 in damages. A can bring his claim in federal court because A and B are diverse citizens and the claim exceeds $75,000.

State Courts

State courts are courts of general jurisdiction. This means that the court can hear pretty much any claim brought before it. States can, and often do, separate court jurisdiction into particular categories. For example, most states have a Tax Court that handles all tax-related cases filed in the state. Civil cases, like personal injury, are filed primarily in the trial court of a state. Gilman & Bedigian practice in three jurisdictions: Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Pennsylvania. In Maryland cases civil cases are filed in the District Court or the Circuit Court depending on the amount involved. In the District of Columbia, civil cases are heard by the Superior Court and in Pennsylvania civil cases are tried in the Court of Common Pleas.

Maryland

District Court of Maryland (state level): the state district court has exclusive jurisdiction over civil claims valuing $5,000 or less and concurrent jurisdiction with the Maryland Circuit Courts for claims over $5,000 and up to $30,000. However, in District Court there are no jury trials. All cases are heard and decided by judges.

Circuit Courts: The Maryland circuit courts handle most major civil cases in the state. These courts have jurisdiction over claims for over $15,000. It's important to note that only in the Circuit Courts can you have a jury trial. In Maryland you a right to jury trial if your case is valued at $15,00 or more.

District of Columbia

Superior Court: the Civil Actions branch of the Superior Court handles all civil matters exceeding $5,000.

Pennsylvania

Courts of Common Pleas: The Courts of Common Pleas are Pennsylvania's primary trial courts. This court has original jurisdiction over most civil claims over $10,000. There is an exception if a civil suit is brought against the state, then the Commonwealth Court has original jurisdiction over the matter.

Concurrent Jurisdiction

Certain types of cases can only be brought in federal court such as bankruptcy or patent cases. However, most other federal matters can be handled at the state level as well. So a case can be brought in either state or federal court even if there are federal questions at issue. In that instance, the state and federal courts would have what is known as concurrent jurisdiction.

Venue

In addition to subject matter jurisdiction, a case must be brought in the appropriate venue. Venue simply means, within a state or federal court system, the proper court to hear the case. This usually has to deal with where geographically the events that gave rise to the lawsuit occurred or where the defendant resides.

Federal Venue

Venue is appropriate in a federal district court in "a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located." 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) (1). Venue is also appropriate in "a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of the property that is the subject of the action is situated." U.S.C. § 1391(b) (2). If neither of these is applicable then venue is appropriate in "any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court's personal jurisdiction with respect to such action." U.S.C. § 1391(b) (3).

Example: A and B get in a car accident in State C. A is a citizen of state D and B is a citizen of State C. A is suing B for $80,000. Venue would be appropriate in State C both because the accident occurred in that state and because B is a resident of the state.

State Venue

State venue rules vary from state to state. Some states closely follow the federal rules while others have their own provisions.

Maryland

Venue is appropriate in Maryland "in a county where the defendant resides, carries on regular business, is employed, or habitually engages in a vocation." MD. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. §6-201(a). In addition, "[i]f there is more than one defendant, and there is no single venue applicable to all defendants, under subsection (a) of this section, all may be sued in a county in which any one of them could be sued, or in a county where the cause of action arose." MD. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. §6-201(b).

Pennsylvania

Venue is appropriate in Pennsylvania in the county where "the individual may be served or in which the cause of action arose or where a transaction or occurrence took place out of which the cause of action arose or in any other county authorized by law." Pa.R.C.P. 1006(a) (1).

District of Columbia

According to Creamer v. Creamer 482 A.2d 346 (D.C. 1984), the District of Columbia does not have a venue statute because all the courts are located in one place.

Procedural Considerations

The Rules of Civil Procedure of the various courts govern most aspects of trial practice. These rules establish everything from the requirements for service of process to motion practice to judgment enforcement. While many states rules of procedure closely follow the federal rules, other states have their own unique requirements. It's important to have an attorney who is well versed in the rules of civil procedure in your state.

Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a deadline for filing your lawsuit. Legal claims must be brought within a certain amount of time after you or a loved one have been injured or you will lose your right to sue. These statutes vary from state to state and claim to claim. In certain instances the statute of limitations will not begin to run right after the injuring incident. For example, if the injured party is a minor, the statute of limitations often does not begin to run until that person turns 18. Another reason the statute of limitations may be delayed is if the injury remains undiscovered for a number of years. In that instance, the statute only begins to run when you find or discover the injury.

State

Statute of Limitations

District of Columbia 3 years
Maryland 3 years
Pennsylvania 2 years

Let Us Help

If someone you are close to has been seriously injured or worse, you are naturally devastated not only by what has happened, but by the effect that the injury or loss has had on you and your family. At a time when you're vulnerable, traumatized and emotionally exhausted, you need a team that will support you through the often complex process that lies ahead.

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