Personal Injury 101
When a person is injured by the negligent or intentional act of another, personal injury law governs whether a person may be compensated and how much compensation may be awarded as well as who must compensate the injured party. Personal injury law constitutes the lion-share of law typically called tort law. “Tort” means a wrongful act, either intentional or negligent, which creates a right to recover compensation for the injuries suffered by the victim. Maryland personal injury law is based in state, federal and common law (judge made law).
The law imposes strict deadlines for initiating a lawsuit by filing a complaint in court called the “statute of limitations.” A person who fails to file before the statute of limitations runs is completely barred from bringing a lawsuit under Maryland personal injury law. The process of determining which statute of limitation applies can be difficult. The statute of limitations that governs most personal injury cases under Maryland personal injury law is Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Poc. Section 5-101, which provides that the action must be filed within three years from the date it “accrued” unless a different provision provides a different time period. The Maryland Code further provides that actions for assault, libel or slander must be filed within one year of the date the action accrued. Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Poc. Section 5-105.
Determining when an action “accrues” can be a complex legal determination that requires extensive case law research. Generally, a tort action accrues at the time the wrongful action occurs. Berringer v. Steele, 133 Md. App. 442 (2000); Fairfax Sav. F.S.B. v. Weingberg & Green, 112 Md. App. 587 (1996). Because of the complexity involved in determining which statute of limitations applies and when the time starts to run, a person with a tort claim should seek immediate advice from a qualified Maryland personal injury lawyer.
The statute of limitation is not the only time limit that a person needs to consider in filing a civil lawsuit. Sometimes other special time limits may apply like limits involved in filing a claim against a public entity, which may have even shorter time limits than the statute of limitations. An experienced Maryland personal injury lawyer will be able to determine the appropriate time limits.
Types of Personal Injury Claims
Tort liability may be based on the negligent or intentional act of another that causes injury to the victim. The action filed in court is a civil lawsuit for damages wherein the injured party (the “plaintiff) seeks compensation by proving the other party (the “defendant) caused the injuries.
A plaintiff under a negligence theory must prove (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, (2) the defendant breached that duty, (3) the breach of that duty caused the plaintiff’s injuries, (4) injury to the plaintiff.
Duty: As a general rule, every person owes a duty to act as a reasonably prudent person under similar circumstances. For example, a motorist owes a duty to other drivers on the road to exercise safe driving practices including not driving faster than is safe given road and weather conditions.
Breach: A person breaches their duty of reasonable care when he does not act as a reasonably prudent person would under similar circumstances. In the example above, the driver would be said to breach his duty of reasonable care when he goes 70 miles per hour on an icy roadway with low visibility due to a snowstorm.
Causation: There are two elements to causation which includes (1) actual cause (“but for”) causation and proximate cause. The actual cause means that the “but for” test can be applied. Consider again the example above, “but for” the motorist driving to fast under the weather conditions the other driver would not have been hurt in the resulting collision.
Proximate cause is a more sophisticated legal concept that basically represents a public policy determination that some results that are actually caused are so remote and unforeseeable the law should not impose liability. Proximate cause focuses on intentional intervening acts breaking the chain of causation and the foreseeability of the result. In the motorist example, the motorist is taken to the hospital where it is determined he will make a full recovery. While the motorist is being discharged, a criminal shoots the motorist in the course of robbing the hospital. The traffic accident is the “but for” cause of the motorist’s death, but one might find that the intentional criminal act of the robber was too remote and unforeseeable to impose liability for the traffic accident.
Injury: The plaintiff must suffer actual damages such as economic loss or physical injury to establish a case for negligence.
Common Personal Injury Cases
There are many types of situations that can lead to personal injuries giving rise to a civil lawsuit for compensation. Some typical examples include:
Vehicular accidents: Auto accident, trucking accident, motorcycle accident, plane accident, train accident, boat accident
· Slip and falls
· Medical malpractice
· Dog bites
· Defective/dangerous products
· Intentional assault
· Construction accident
Types of Compensation
There are different kinds of compensation that can be recovered in a civil lawsuit under Maryland personal injury law. Different types of compensation (“damages”) are available depending on the specific nature of the personal injury action. The list below provides examples of common compensation that can be awarded in tort actions but are not available in all cases.
General Damages: These are damages to compensate and injured party for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. An attorney may be necessary to help establish these damages as they can be difficult to prove.
Loss of Consortium: These damages are awarded to the spouse of an injured party to compensate the spouse for any loss of affection, solace, comfort and sexual relations, which result from the injuries.
Lost Earning Capacity: A court may award damages for lost future earnings based on the injured parties future earning capacity. An economic expert may be required to help establish lost earning capacity.
Lost Wages: The injured party may be compensated for lost wages from the time of the injury until the date of settlement or judgment.
Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are not awarded to compensate the injured party but to punish the defendant. Punitive damages are most commonly awarded when the conduct that caused the injuries is intentional or reckless.
A personal injury lawsuit must be brought in a timely manner and can often involves the use of experts in physics, medicine, economics and other technical areas so promptly consulting a Maryland personal injury lawyer is essential. If you need to consult a Maryland personal injury lawyer, click here.
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