If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, slipped and fallen at the local grocery store, or been bitten by a neighbor’s dog, one of the first questions you might have is, “Can I sue?”
If you want to recover compensation after getting hurt in an accident, it’s important to note the differences between “just bad luck” and a personal injury case. Accidents happen, and not every injury meets the personal injury threshold (the right to file a lawsuit for damages). Let’s take a closer look at what qualifies as a personal injury case and what doesn’t, with some input from our friends at Cohen & Cohen.
Negligence and Personal Injury Case
The crux of a personal injury case is whether the negligence of one party (a person, business, or other entity) led to the harm of another. Let’s look at two examples of an accident: one that is probably a good personal injury case and one that may be simply bad luck.
When Negligence Causes Harm
You’re stopped at a red light. The light turns green, and you go, but suddenly, another driver T-bones you. You’re hurt, angry, and unsure if you can afford to replace your totaled car.
This could easily be a personal injury case because the other driver ran a red light. When you get a driver’s license, you implicitly agree to follow the rules of the road, including obeying traffic signals and driving safely. The other driver tried to “beat” the light instead of slowing down, and their actions caused you harm and financial loss.
Accidents Not Caused by Negligence
You’re shopping at Target and grabbing some groceries. A stocker is putting away milk, drops a gallon as you walk by, and you slip and fall. There’s a good chance this is simply an accident and doesn’t meet the threshold of negligence.
This may not be considered negligence on the part of the stocker because you fell right after the spill occurred. The stocker didn’t have a reasonable opportunity to clean it up or put warning signs out. However, the scenario could indicate negligence if it went slightly differently:
The stocker spilled the milk 45 minutes before you walked by, but the milk still wasn’t cleaned up, nor were wet floor signs placed to warn shoppers. Property owners are responsible for keeping their premises safe for visitors, including rectifying unsafe conditions (like cleaning a spill) in a reasonable amount of time.
How Can I Tell If the Other Party Was Negligent?
Your personal injury lawyer must prove all four elements of legal negligence to prove that the other party is liable for your injury:
They had a duty of care to keep you safe from harm, like driving responsibly or keeping the store safe
Their actions (running the red light) or inaction (not cleaning up the spill) caused the accident
You were hurt in the accident
You suffered financial harm because of your injuries (paying for medical care, car repairs, or missing work because you’re hurt)
If you’re not sure whether you can file a suit for personal injury damages, talk to an attorney. Many personal injury lawyers offer free consultations, so you can talk to a seasoned personal injury lawyer near you about your situation and get professional advice.