- April 24, 2017
- Personal Injury Law
Many Asheville residents find it difficult to keep up with the lawyerspeak involved in their personal injury claim or lawsuit. Learning a few of the most common legal terms you’re likely to see in the legal process can help you to navigate your claim, because knowledge is the best tool you bring to the table when it comes time to negotiate and settle your claim. Here are some terms you’re likely to see in the beginning stages of a lawsuit:
The complaint is a document that an injured person (the plaintiff) or their personal injury lawyer writes and files with the court. The complaint initiates a lawsuit. It lays out each of the injured person’s grievances, describes how the negligent person (the defendant) caused those grievances, and asks the court to make a decision that compensates them for these grievances. Plaintiffs usually ask the court for money.
Prayer for Relief
The prayer for relief is the injured person’s request for compensation from the court. People injured in personal injury suits almost always ask for the court to order the negligent person to pay them money for their injuries.
As a legal term, damages means the money that you are seeking in your lawsuit and that court may order a negligent person to pay you. You can seek economic damages like payment for your medical bills, lost wages, and car repairs. Most lawsuits also involve non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
Cause of Action
In your complaint, you must state a cause of action. The cause of action is the reason why you are suing the person who caused your injuries. It must have a legal basis. A cause of action is also called a claim for relief.
Negligence is the most common cause of action in personal injury cases. There are four parts of a negligence claim:
- The negligent person’s duty to protect you from harm; e.g. by driving carefully and safely
- The negligent person’s breach of duty; e.g. failing to pay attention to traffic and placing you in danger
- The negligent person’s proximate cause of your injuries; e.g. by rear-ending your vehicle at a stoplight
- Your damages – physical injury and property damage that cause harm to you
The answer is the document that the negligent party writes in response to the complaint. They must address each allegation in the complaint by admitting or denying them. The defendant is required to file an answer to the complaint; if they do not answer, the court may find them in default and award the plaintiff damages without ever hearing the case.
The plaintiff is the person who claims to have suffered some injury or damage because of another person’s negligence. This is the person who begins the lawsuit by filing a complaint. The plaintiff may be a person who was rear-ended at a stoplight by a driver who was not paying attention to traffic.
The defendant is the person who allegedly caused injury to the person who begins the lawsuit. This is the person who rear-ended the person stopped at a stoplight.
Legal Issues in Personal Injury Lawsuits
North Carolina is one of only a few states that uses contributory negligence in personal injury cases. Contributory negligence is a doctrine that states that if an injured person’s actions contributed even slightly to their injuries, then they are barred from seeking compensation from the at-fault party. In car accident cases, one of the most common contributory negligence issues is seat belt use. If another driver rear-ends your vehicle at a stoplight while you aren’t wearing a seat belt, the at-fault insurance company will probably deny your claim and you will probably be barred from filing a lawsuit. This is because your action of not wearing a seat belt contributed to your injuries, making you ineligible to file suit under the contributory negligence doctrine.
Torts are the basis of most civil lawsuits like personal injury suits. A tort is a wrongful act that is not a criminal act and is not a breach of a contract. In most personal injury cases, the tort arises from some act of negligence.
When a person intentionally harms a victim, they have committed an intentional tort. Intentional torts can be the basis for criminal charges – for instance, if another driver intentionally rear-ends you at a stoplight, they could be charged with a crime. However, you can only seek damages from a civil case, not through the criminal courts.
Burden of Proof/Threshold of Proof
Burden of proof determines which party must prove fault in a court case and what threshold of proof is necessary. In most personal injury cases, the burden of proof rests with the plaintiff to prove that the defendant’s negligence caused their injuries.
Threshold of proof refers to how much the evidence weighs in favor of or against the parties to a case. Many people have heard “beyond a reasonable doubt” in the context of criminal cases. This refers to the threshold of proof, and it means that the prosecution must have enough evidence to cause a reasonable person to conclude that the defendant is guilty.
The threshold of proof in civil cases is usually a preponderance of evidence. This means that for the court to rule in favor of a plaintiff, the plaintiff must present evidence that shows that the defendant’s actions more likely than not caused their injuries. In the rear-end collision example, this may involve proving that the defendant was driving the car, tire marks on the road that show the defendant did not apply brakes soon enough to avoid a collision, or cell phone records showing they were using their cell phone at the time the collision occurred. These pieces of evidence would show that the defendant was most likely driving while distracted when they rear-ended you.
Contact an Asheville Personal Injury Attorney
Most personal injury cases settle out of court because they are so complex and costly. In the majority of cases, all parties benefit from settling out of court, because the injured person gets their money more quickly and insurance companies and defendants keep their costs lower. However, in some cases, insurance companies refuse to pay victims what they need and deserve to cover the costs of their injuries and pain and suffering. It is sometimes necessary for these people to file personal injury lawsuits.
Many people consider going it alone and representing themselves in their personal injury cases. In cases involving more than $3,000 in damages, this is almost always a bad idea. People without legal training can often ruin their claim even before it gets started simply by not knowing the language involved in filing suit. A simple mistake like failing to include a prayer for relief in a complaint can cause a judge to dismiss your case and forbid you from attempting to file suit again.
An experienced personal injury attorney can protect your interests at every stage of your personal injury claim, from negotiating with the insurance company to arguing your case at trial. Our firm has the resources, knowledge, and skills necessary to keep your claim on the right track and get the compensation you need. Contact us today to have our attorney evaluate your case. Consultations are always free.