If you've been accused of negligence that caused or contributed to a personal injury, you may not know what legal options you have or how the laws even apply to your particular case. Fortunately, personal injury attorneys (and, if necessary criminal attorneys) are just as skilled at defending these cases as they are at prosecuting them. But the more you understand about negligence-based personal injuries in advance, the more easily you can prepare your defense. Here are some basic concepts and rules you'll need to be aware of.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
A variety of personal injury circumstances may be traced to negligence on the part of the plaintiff. Common categories include:
- Slip and fall injuries - Owners of business facilities are prone to this type of case because of the high volume of foot traffic their facilities receive every day. If a recently-mopped floor caused a customer to fall and sustain and injury, for example, and you failed to provide a suitable warning about the wet floor, you could be accused of negligence.
- Malpractice - Medical providers of all types may be subject of malpractice suits if their treatments or other procedures cause an injury due to negligence. For instance, a surgeon who prescribes the wrong medication, causing a life-threatening illness in his patient, may be accused of malpractice. If he simply relayed the wrong prescription to the pharmacist due to inattention, negligence would form the basis of the plaintiff's case.
- Defective product claims - If you manufacture a defective product or service and fail to issue a public recall in a timely manner, any injuries resulting from that product could result in charges of negligence.
- Car accidents - If you hit a car and cause an injury to its occupants because you were too lost in thought to stop at a red light, a car accident attorney would consider that a prime example of negligence.
Civil vs. Criminal Charges
If you're accused of accidentally making a foolish error resulting in a personal injury, you're probably on the receiving end of a civil lawsuit. If you lose your case, you may be ordered to pay various compensatory damages, from the plaintiff's hospital and rehabilitation costs to lost wages. These cases obviously require the attention of a personal injury attorney. But if you are accused of deliberately permitting or abetting the negligence that caused the personal injury, the stakes rise dramatically -- and so does your need for expert legal representation.
This category of negligence, known as gross negligence, can expose you to both civil and criminal charges and penalties. In addition to paying the damages commonly associated with negligence personal injury cases, you may also be ordered to pay punitive damages. In some criminal cases, you might even be facing prison. Fortunately, the plaintiff's personal injury attorney has the additional obstacle of proving that you were reckless in your negligence. But if your case is tried under the criminal justice system, you will need a criminal attorney as well as a personal injury attorney to come to your defense.
Degree of Fault
Before panicking over an accusation of either civil or criminal negligence leading to a personal injury, bear in mind that your accuser may carry some degree of fault in the incident. States generally follow one of two strategies in assigning damages based on shared fault:
- Comparative negligence - In this system, the law will determine what percentage of fault each party carries in the incident. If both you and the plaintiff are found to have shown some degree of negligence, then each of you may be entitled to request damages from the other. The percent of your total damages you can claim will the same as your percentage of fault.
- Contributory negligence - In states that use this strategy, the plaintiff cannot claim any damages at all if he is even 1 percent responsible for the circumstances of the personal injury.
As complicated as personal injury cases can be, the issues may feel positively nightmarish when you're the one accused of negligence. The sooner you talk to a personal injury attorney licensed in your state, the sooner you'll have a full grasp of the particular laws and procedural rules that impact your ultimate fate -- and the more control you may be able to exert over that fate.