This article is a broad overview of what goes into answering the question “do I have a case?” It may help you move from that question to more specific ones. I hope this article makes you a more informed consumer when you need to think about hiring a personal injury lawyer or referring someone you know. You’ll be able to do more than ask “Do I have a case?”
It is always better to call a personal injury lawyer to review what happened than to try to examine the issues alone. The issues can be complex and the answers unfamiliar. They may even require experts to answer, like cases involving product defects or medical malpractice. The call to a lawyer is free and confidential. You do not need to hire the lawyer just to make a call. If nothing else, you may receive some helpful free information.
Many times, it takes a lawyer to help you find out whether your case has each element and to argue that the elements are satisfied.
Many harms and offenses do not carry the weight of a personal injury case. You must have been hurt in a way that the law recognizes and the community (of jurors or a judge) can see.
Ultimately you must prove the damages. Typically, the harm has to be documented.
In many personal injury cases, medical records show the injuries. Medical records like X-rays, MRI reports, CAT scans, and operative reports will help a personal injury lawyer find out whether you have a damage the law recognizes. If you have a fracture, it will show up on an X-ray. A herniated disc will appear on an MRI or CAT scan.
Many valid injuries do not show up on common medical scans or reports though. Those cases can be harder to prove. Those are “invisible injuries.” For example, traumatic brain injury, severe depression, and post traumatic stress disorder do not show up on scans or operative reports but are legal injuries for personal injury cases. Doctors diagnose those injuries and the judge and jury sees evidence of them from medical tests and by hearing from the patient, their family and friends.
Many people who suffer from a brain injury do not realize they suffered a traumatic brain injury because the symptoms are invisible and can be gradual. The patient may feel constantly foggy, with a chronic headache, irritated, or off in medically predictable ways after getting hit in the head or badly jolted. The patient may not get treatment because there is no open wound or obvious trauma. Brain injuries have serious consequences though that must not be overlooked.
Personal injury cases that involve shock, fright, or humiliation, like cases involving libel, slander, and infliction of emotional distress, still require evidence of damages. The judge and jury must be able to see and understand your harm otherwise the “damages” element will not be compensable.
Ultimately, injuries have to be apparent for a personal injury case to succeed. The judge and jury must have evidence of the injury and its seriousness to render a verdict that a defendant has to pay money damages.
An injury alone, even a severe injury, is not enough to make a personal injury case.
Very broadly, liability means there is a legal reason to hold someone else responsible for your injury. Liability breaks down into proving the defendant broke the law (for example, product liability or some statutory violation) or was careless (negligence) and that violation or carelessness caused your injury.
Look at how you got hurt. Was there fault? Negligence? Did a product hurt you? Did someone break the law?
Those are all questions a personal injury attorney will ask and work to answer from the beginning to the end of your case. They are questions the jury will have to answer and the appeals court will need to review to be sure they were answered properly.
The personal injury lawyer will carefully review your case for opportunities get you compensation for your losses. The personal injury lawyer may hire an investigator to find additional funds. The personal injury lawyer may weigh principles of comparative fault against many defendants who are responsible for the harm. The personal injury lawyer may review insurance agreements or contracts between companies to find out who is responsible for paying compensation.
Ultimately, the defendant must make up for the damage done.
A personal injury attorney will review your potential case carefully for those three components: damages, liability and the ability to recover. When you start thinking about each one, you’ll be able to ask a lawyer the right questions and understand what it means to “have a case.” You’ll get a better sense of who you want to represent you.
If you have a question, call and ask the right questions.