When somebody is hurt because of another party’s wrongful actions, they could be entitled to monetary compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. Personal injury law provides a mechanism for victims to hold the responsible party financially liable for the harm they caused. Money is meant to serve as compensation for medical expenses, physical pain, and emotional suffering.
Personal injury claims arise from various incidents, including car accidents, slip and falls, medical errors, and defective products.
If you are injured, you might be more focused on your physical condition and how you will pay for your medical care if you are unable to work. By allowing our attorneys to advocate for your rights, you could be awarded the compensation you deserve. Call (732) 838-9769 to schedule a free consultation.
What Needs to be Proven in a Personal Injury Case?
The laws that govern personal injury cases come from common and civil law. Holding another party liable for the harm they caused is based on a long-standing tradition of fairness. Some personal injury law stems from court decisions, while others have been codified in state statutes.
While a personal injury claim could overlap with a criminal proceeding, it is never a criminal case. A defendant who caused harm could face criminal prosecution and civil liability for the same act. For example, if a drunk driver injures you, you could file a personal injury claim to seek damages while the state brings criminal charges to punish the behavior.
The burden of proof is a critical difference between a personal injury claim and a criminal case. When the prosecution charges a driver with driving under the influence, they must establish “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty of the alleged crime. In a personal injury case, a plaintiff’s lawyer only has to prove negligence by a “preponderance of the evidence.” Because of this dramatic difference, a defendant could escape conviction but still be held civilly and financially liable for the harm they caused.
Negligence, Recklessness, or Intentional Conduct
To file a personal injury lawsuit, an injured plaintiff requires adequate legal grounds. A personal injury claim could be based on negligence, recklessness, or intentional conduct. In some situations, a party could be held accountable through strict liability. However, most personal injury claims are based on the negligent actions of the defendant.
A synonym for negligence is carelessness. Legally, negligence is failing to adhere to the standard of a reasonable person under the same circumstances. When a person does not act the way they should have, their actions could constitute negligence. For example, if a reasonable person were driving through a bad thunderstorm with poor visibility, they would slow down and proceed cautiously. Driving at the posted speed limit could be considered negligent given the current road conditions.
Recklessness is similar to negligence. However, the defendant knows that their behavior is likely to cause harm. Returning to the above example, a driver operating their car at the posted speed limit could be acting negligently. They are not necessarily breaking the law but they are not taking the precautions a prudent driver would take. However, if they were driving over the speed limit, their conduct would be reckless.
When someone hurts another on purpose, their conduct is said to be intentional. You have the right to sue another person if they purposefully harm you. Typically, this is the type of personal injury claim that is likely to cross over with a criminal case.
There are cases when a defendant could be held liable for an injury without any type of negligence or carelessness. The injury alone could be enough evidence to hold the offending person or business financially responsible for any damages. A common example of when strict liability occurs is when a manufacturer exposes the public to a dangerous or defective product.
Proving Negligence in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
To prevail in a lawsuit based on negligence, the plaintiff must prove four things: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages. First, the injured victim must show that the defendant owed them a duty of care. In the case of a car crash, a driver owes everyone else on the road a duty to safely operate their vehicle, including obeying all traffic rules and regulations. Next, the defendant’s conduct must have violated that duty. Speeding, texting, or driving under the influence would be a breach of duty.
Poor behavior is not enough to be held liable for an injury. The plaintiff needs to link their injuries to the defendant’s conduct. Whiplash is typically a direct result of a rear-end collision. However, a plaintiff would still have to provide medical evidence to tie their injury to the accident. Finally, the plaintiff must have suffered quantifiable damages.
Comparative Negligence and Contributory Negligence
Some injuries are solely the fault of one person. However, there are situations where the injured victim contributed to their harm. For example, a person could be injured in a slip and fall accident while shopping in a grocery store. However, they were looking at their phone when they stepped on the slippery spill.
In personal injury claims, there are two competing legal theories: comparative negligence and contributory negligence. Under the comparative negligence theory, a plaintiff’s compensation could be reduced based on their percentage of fault. Some states prohibit an accident victim from receiving any compensation if they are found to be more than fifty percent at fault. Under the contributory negligence theory, a plaintiff could be barred from recovering any damages if they are found to have contributed at all, even one percent, to the accident. These laws vary from state to state, with some form of comparative negligence being the most common.
What is Unique About NJ’s Personal Injury Laws?
Finding information about your state’s specific laws online can often be challenging. You may come across general legal information, but it can be hard to tell whether those rules apply in your state, given that each state’s laws might vary slightly from the standard. If you were traveling from a neighboring state when you were injured in New Jersey, you might also be confused about how NJ’s specific injury laws work compared to those of your home state. The following is some specific information about how New Jersey’s injury laws work compared to those of New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware – NJ’s neighboring states.
No-Fault Auto Insurance Laws
If you get hurt in a car accident, what type of insurance system your state uses will play a big part in how you get compensation and what limits you face on your ability to file a lawsuit. New Jersey uses a no-fault system – technically a “choice” no-fault system. Pennsylvania also uses a choice no-fault system, but its rules are a bit different than NJ’s. NY also uses a no-fault system, but again there are some important differences between its rules and NJ’s rules that change how these systems work. Delaware, on the other hand, is a fault state and uses quite different rules.
Choice No-Fault Systems
Under New Jersey’s no-fault system, drivers with a no-fault policy file with their own insurance policy when they are injured in a crash, and that policy covers them regardless of who was at fault for the accident. However, having a no-fault policy limits your right to sue for injuries, and you can only reach beyond your own insurance to sue the at-fault driver or file a third-party claim with their insurance when you face “serious injuries.”
However, New Jersey law allows you to pay higher premiums for an “unlimited right to sue” policy. PA has a similar rule that allows you to pay for a “full tort” policy. If you have these kinds of policies, you have effectively chosen an at-fault system that instead allows you to sue or file a third-party insurance claim against the at-fault driver rather than relying solely on your first-party benefits.
In New Jersey, non-drivers (such as cyclists and pedestrians) are not barred from suing if they have no insurance. If no one in your household has insurance and a car hits you while you are riding a bike or walking, you can sue the driver. In New York, everyone is barred from suing unless they meet the “serious injury” threshold, and the driver’s no-fault insurance covers in the case of a pedestrian or bike accident.
Our Personal injury lawyers can help you determine what kind of policy you should elect and, in the event of an accident, what rules will apply to your accident case. You should especially consider speaking with a lawyer if you have an out-of-state insurance policy and were injured in a crash in New Jersey.
Special Motorcycle Rules
All three states also have special rules for motorcycles: riders do not use no-fault insurance and carry liability insurance instead. This makes their situation more akin to the situation in Delaware, where at-fault rules hold the at-fault driver responsible for the accident and damages. In that situation, you carry liability insurance to cover injuries you cause to others.
Bodily Injury Insurance
One important point about NJ insurance is that no liability insurance is required to cover bodily injuries under “basic policies.” This means that if someone hits you with their car and they have only a basic policy, they will not have coverage to pay for your injuries and will be liable for out-of-pocket payments if you suffered serious injuries above and beyond what your insurance covers. So-called “standard policies” do usually include at least $25,000 for bodily injury coverage.
“Serious Injury” Rules
Under all three no-fault states, you must meet the “serious injury” threshold to sue for injuries if you have a no-fault policy. Permanent injuries and death are considered “serious” under all three definitions, but there are some specific differences that make NJ’s laws a bit different from PA’s and NY’s. Our Personal injury attorneys can help you determine what laws affect your case.
PA’s laws are probably the strictest rules, with lawsuits allowed only when there is a “serious impairment” or “serious disfigurement.” Death also meets this threshold.
NJ’s threshold is in the middle, with any permanent injury qualifying alongside displaced fractures, death of a fetus, loss of limb, and more. One important part of this rule is that NJ allows lawsuits for any injury that is permanent “within a reasonable degree of medical probability.” This allows you to bring a doctor to argue that your injury is permanent.
NY’s threshold is a bit more forgiving, covering essentially the same things as NJ’s. However, NY also allows lawsuits for any fracture, not just displaced ones. It also has a simpler rule for determining whether an injury is sufficiently long-term: any injury that affects your daily tasks for 90 of the following 180 days counts. NJ’s rule is not this lenient.
Note that Delaware does not have such a threshold because you can sue for any injuries. This is also how the law works in NJ if you paid for an “unlimited right to sue” policy or have motorcycle insurance.
Comparative Negligence Laws
As mentioned earlier in this article, NJ uses a comparative negligence rule that blocks liability when the victim is more than 50% at fault. Pennsylvania and Delaware also use so-called “50% bars,” but NY uses a different rule. In New York, victims can sue regardless of what percentage of fault they shared, even if the defendant was only 1% liable. There, damages are reduced by the victim’s percentage of fault with no limit. It is important to keep this difference in mind especially if you were visiting from New York when you were injured in New Jersey.
Sometimes court names can be confusing, and you might not always know where to go if you were injured and need to file a lawsuit. In PA, NJ, and NY, each county has its own trial-level court that hears injury cases. Delaware is sometimes additionally confusing because it has separate courts for “at law” questions (e.g., money damages) and “at equity” questions (e.g., injunctions), but most injury cases deal exclusively with “at law” remedies.
In New Jersey, the county trial courts are called “Superior Courts,” which makes them sound like appellate-level courts. Nonetheless, this is the primary trial-level court where your case will be heard. If you appeal, it goes to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, then to the NJ Supreme Court.
Contrast this with Pennsylvania and Delaware, which use the name Court of Common Pleas for the trial-level courts and Superior Court for the appeals courts. The highest level in those states is also the Supreme Court. New York is perhaps the most confusing, as it calls its trial-level court the Supreme Court of New York, and appeals are made to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, then to the Court of Appeals (NY’s highest level court).
Especially in large cities, there might be sub-divisions within the trial-level courts that hear certain cases. Our Personal injury lawyers can guide you through the process of filing, as discussed below.
How Our Personal Injury Lawyers Can Help
Our NJ personal injury attorneys can help with your injury case by taking it from the research stage to filing and all the way through the procedures that the court requires to get you damages in a jury trial. We can also, on the side, negotiate with insurance companies and at-fault parties in an attempt to settle the case more quickly.
Researching and Collecting Evidence
Before we can file your case, we need evidence to support the claim. Our lawyers can use any evidence you have already collected, and we might be able to collect other evidence as well. Many injury victims overlook things like nearby security footage that might have caught the accident on camera. Our lawyers can also use the court’s subpoena power to compel the defendant and other parties to turn over evidence, show up for depositions, and testify at trial.
At the outset of your case, your primary focus should be on your recovery. It is incredibly difficult enough to deal with medical appointments, physical therapy, and other day-to-day issues surrounding your health and recovery. Our Personal injury lawyers can focus on the legal aspects of your case and help you keep track of medical bills, medical records, and other evidence so that you do not have to worry about those issues.
Filing Your Claim
When filing your claim with the courts, we have to explain the facts of what happened and detail how those facts fill out the elements of your injury claim. In most personal injury cases, you will file a claim for negligence and must make out your case by showing that the defendant owed you a legal duty, that they breached that duty, and that the breach of duty actually caused your damages.
Your initial filing does not need to absolutely prove the case, it just needs to make out a plausible claim that those the court who injured you, how they did so, and that the claim you are filing is indeed plausible. Our Personal injury attorneys will work to make sure that these filings are sufficient to move your case forward to the discovery stage, where additional evidence can be gained.
During discovery, both sides are required to turn over evidence, answer questions, and take depositions to help lay out all the facts. It is often said that trials in the United States are not trials by surprise, and that all evidence must be shared so that both sides have an even playing field to allow the facts to shine through.
Our lawyers will help gather and process all of the evidence we can from the at-fault parties to build your case for trial. Especially when filing claims against nursing homes, hospitals, trucking companies, or any other corporation, the evidence in their possession might be difficult to get to before this stage of the case.
After discovery, when all of the evidence has been exposed, parties are often the most amenable to settlement. If possible, our Personal injury lawyers will seek to settle your case for a fair value and avoid the additional time and expense of trial if that is in your best interest. Sometimes, trial is the only fair way to get you the compensation you need.
At trial, our attorneys’ services are invaluable. We will present your case in opening statements, call witnesses to build your case, cross-examine the defendant’s case, and argue against their defenses at closing arguments. Throughout this process, we will use our knowledge of the Rules of Evidence and our experience in previous trials to try to win your case and get you the damages you need to pay for your injuries.
As mentioned, our lawyers will also try to negotiate settlements throughout this entire process. Some cases settle early, before the case is even filed in court. As mentioned, most cases settle after discovery, but it is also possible for cases to settle all the way up to the day of trial or even at the end of trial. These are often called “courthouse steps” settlements.
Regardless, our goals will be to convince the defendant that your claim for damages is valid, that our valuation of the damages is correct, and that their client is responsible for all of these damages. We will seek to get all necessary damages paid, and, if the settlement is too low, we will advise you to reject the offer.
Whether or not to settle an injury case is a decision left to the client, but our lawyers can advise you on what to do and whether your chances are better accepting a settlement or going to trial.
Contact Our Personal Injury Attorneys to Evaluate Your Case
If you were injured because of another’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional conduct, you could have grounds for a personal injury claim. To review your case with our experienced and knowledgeable attorneys, (732) 838-9769.