Created by FindLaw’s team of legal writers and editors
| Last updated September 27, 2019
The fact that mishaps are fairly commonplace does not detract from the pain and confusion that can result when an accident or injury happens to you or a loved one. If you decide to take steps toward protecting your legal rights after an accident or injury, you may have a number of general questions about a personal injury claim.
What is a Personal Injury Lawsuit? The Basics
Personal injury cases are legal disputes that arise when one person suffers harm from an accident or injury, and someone else might be legally responsible for that harm. The responsible person’s insurance company will pay money to the injured person for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other ongoing medical expenses. If the case involves medical malpractice, your personal injury attorney will be working with insurance companies and hospital attorneys.
A personal injury case can become formalized through a personal injury lawyer representing you at a civil court proceeding. This court session seeks to find others legally at fault through a court judgment or, as is much more common, such disputes may be resolved through informal settlement before any lawsuit is filed.
The likely two outcomes of a case, such as needing medical treatment for a car accident or an injury from property damage, are below:
- Formal Lawsuit – Unlike criminal cases, which are initiated by the government, a formal personal injury case typically starts when a private individual (the “plaintiff”) files a civil complaint against another person, business, corporation, or government agency (the “defendant”), alleging that they acted carelessly or irresponsibly in connection with an accident or injury that caused harm. This action is known as “filing a lawsuit”. Our discussion on negligence and proof is especially helpful.
- Informal Settlement – In reality, most disputes over fault for an accident or injury are resolved through informal early settlement, usually among those personally involved in the dispute, their insurers, and attorneys representing both sides. A settlement commonly takes the form of negotiation, followed by a written agreement in which both sides forgo any further action (such as a lawsuit), choosing instead to resolve the matter through payment of an agreeable amount of money.
Note: The middle ground between a lawsuit and an informal settlement is alternative dispute resolution procedures like mediation and arbitration.
What is a Statute of Limitations?
Plaintiffs have a limited time in which to file a lawsuit, called a statute of limitations. Generally speaking, the period of time dictated by a statute of limitations begins when the plaintiff is injured or discovers the injury. Within that timeframe, you must find a law firm that provides a suitable attorney-client relationship and sue for punitive damages. Once you start the lawsuit you are no longer limited to a timeframe to present the case and have the other person’s insurance policy payout if you win.
Statutes of limitations are established by state law and often vary by type of injury. For instance, the statute of limitations for injuries to an individual in Texas is two years, but five years for sex crimes and one year for libel or slander. It can vary from state to state.
Where are the Laws that Govern Personal Injury Cases?
Unlike other areas of the law that find their rules in statutes (such as penal codes in criminal cases), the development of personal injury law has taken place mostly through court decisions, and in treatises written by legal scholars. Many states have taken steps to summarize the development of personal injury law in written statutes, but for practical purposes court decisions remain the main source of the law in any legal case arising from an accident or injury.
Get Professional Help With Your Personal Injury Lawsuit
Any potential personal injury case requires a detailed understanding of the facts, the processes, and the law. If an accident has impacted your life — and someone else is liable for that injury — then you may be entitled to compensation. Learn more by speaking with an injury law attorney near you.