Proof in a Personal Injury Case
What happens when you are walking through a grocery store, an airport lounge, or even in your office and, as a result of something sticky on the floor, you slipped and fell? Or perhaps you are walking through the supermarket and metal cans fall from the topmost shelf onto your head.
Any of the scenarios above will most likely leave you with some form of personal injury. It could be as simple as migraines or slight bruises pains, to something more serious like deep cuts that might require stitches.
Now, when something like this happens, who should be held responsible? Should you be blamed for being clumsy, or does the fault lie with someone else? Could your employer, the grocery store, the airport, or their employees be held responsible? Are you eligible for compensation, or will you have to foot the hospital bills alone? Most importantly, could the accident leading to your injury have been avoided altogether?
These are some of the questions we get asked regularly from people who contact us for no-strings attached consultations regarding personal injury cases. This post will look at some important things you should know when it comes to proving fault in a personal injury case in Maryland.
What Are Personal Injury Cases?
In Personal Injury cases, the issue of fault is basically centered on the idea of negligence. Personal injury cases span quite different scenarios, but the most common are:
Proving negligence can somewhat be tricky, but not impossible. There are four key elements needed for a successful negligence claim: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Duty of Care
Every person must display some duty of care toward others in most cases. Duty of care can be defined as an obligation to avoid injuring someone else, or to avoid placing them in the path of danger. This brings some questions to the fore: To whom is a duty of care owed? And if a duty of care is owed, how broad is it?
There are no “spelled out” laws (unlike in vehicle codes) that dictate how a person should act, so determining the duty of care can be difficult in some cases. For instance, a grocery store has a duty of care to ensure its customers’ safety, but there are no specific legal guidelines as to how exactly the grocery store owner should satisfy that duty. However, the law requires the store to take “reasonable” steps to ensure customer safety—like regularly checking for spills on the floors, and to avoid precariously placing heavy objects on high shelves. But this still does not stipulate how frequently the store must check for spills—it also does not give a precise answer on how high is too high.
In this example, if a customer has an accident resulting from a breach in store safety procedures, the argument now revolves around whether or not the steps taken by the grocery store to ensure safety qualify as “reasonable.”
Breach of Duty
After determining the appropriate care of duty necessary based on the situation, the next question to answer is if whether or not the person who owed the duty actually met it. In the event where a person or organization did not meet this expectation, their actions can be labelled as “negligent” or careless under the law. This is usually interpreted to mean that by being careless in their actions, they allowed a precarious situation to take place that is beyond the average level of risk a person may face in everyday living.
In cases where personal injury results from a car accident, if the driver was going above the speed limit or ran a red light, it is an obvious breach of duty. It might be easy to identify the driver as being at fault in these instances, but a case can become more complex if, for example, the car was already at the intersection before the light turned red. If the driver was also trying to avoid being hit by another car and took a swerve, the duty of care here is not as straightforward to identify, and by extension, so might be proving negligence.
In Personal Injury law, the argument isn’t necessarily that a person was doing something wrong—it’s to settle any contention as to if a person’s actions were responsible for personal injury sustained by the victim. In this regard, causation is an issue that goes beyond duty of care and breach of duty.
A person may have been driving at a high speed, but were you supposed to cross the road at that point, and were you watchful? Because if you weren’t watchful, someone else who was going at a reasonable speed could have hit you. So, while the defendant might be negligent due to speeding, their actions might not even be the cause of your injury if it did not directly cause it.
Take, for instance, a faulty handrail in your apartment. If you took three steps at a time and tripped, you would share the blame because taking the steps one at a time (as intended) would minimize the injury you received from the faulty handrail. Because of this, you can see that proving cause will help with the claim as well.
In legal terminology, “damages” refers to the physical, property damage, emotional injuries, and income loss that someone suffers as the result of an accident. When the time comes to negotiate a settlement, the damages sustained will determine how much compensation will be received. In cases where a physical injury is not necessarily involved, it may be a little more difficult to determine how much compensation should be paid.
There are two ways to prove negligence: direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. Personal knowledge of witnesses, images or videos is what constitutes as direct evidence, while circumstantial evidence usually requires a fact-finder to draw inferences based on the produced evidence.
Different circumstances are guided by special court rules in proving negligence. How negligence is proven in a dog bite case is different than proving negligence in a medical malpractice case. In a malpractice case, the actions of the doctor would be compared to what the standard of practice is within the medical community, as well as to similar cases that might have occurred. In slip-and-fall accident or building hazard cases, the court will usually require proof that the condition responsible for the injury had existed for a time prior to the incident, and that the owner had the ability to do something about it. If there was just a tiny amount of liquid, or a spill that has not spread, then it is likely it may have just happened at the time and you were the first person to be affected.
In this case, it is best to point out the spill—or whatever the potential cause of injury is—to the supermarket before leaving the vicinity. This would be helpful in proving that the defendant had quite a measure of control in preventing the accident, and can be used as evidence if need be.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
The legal components of a personal injury case can be easily understood, and proving them might not be as difficult as you might think. The real issue of a personal injury case comes down to finding how much your claim is worth, and what compensation is appropriate. An eagerness to immediately determine other factors, such as if the negligence of another person is responsible for it, is something that may arise. In these cases, a licensed attorney can help you figure out the details of your case as quickly as possible to ensure swift justice.
With a history of successfully winning settlements for our clients, we are poised to help you get the compensation for your personal injury that you deserve. Contact us today for a proper, no-strings attached consultation session to discuss your legal options if you or a loved one needs assistance in proving negligence in a personal injury claim.