Personal injury is an area of the law that is based upon a very sensible foundation: an injured party should be compensated by those responsible. However, substantial misinformation has dramatically impacted the public perception of personal injury litigation. For example: the ‘McDonald’s Coffee’ verdict was reduced by the trial judge to under $700,000.00 – not millions – and the parties ultimately settled the case for some undisclosed amount. Additionally, the plaintiff in that case was hospitalized for over a week while she received skin grafts for third degree burns. The plaintiff originally sought damages of around $20,000.00 to cover only her reasonable medical expenses, and received a counter offer of around $800.00.
What does all this mean? A couple of things. First, there is an undeserved stigma associated with pursuing personal injury claims. Why? Because of course there is. Who benefits from a public perception that filing a personal injury lawsuit is simply a frivolous, greedy money grab? It isn’t the members of the general public, that’s for sure. Second, personal injury cases aren’t a path to riches. If you’ve been rear ended in traffic and have suffered minor physical injuries requiring a day in the hospital, you’re absolutely entitled to be compensated – but you won’t be buying an island in the Caribbean anytime soon.
This all may sound contrary to other attorney information you’ve received regarding personal injury, and if you don’t like that – it’s fine. I don’t want you to hire me if you have unrealistic expectations of recovery. I represent personal injury clients who are seeking just compensation for their injuries. That means pursuing the maximum compensation permissible under the law for all the injuries my client has suffered, and protecting my client from efforts of the responsible party to settle those claims for pennies on the dollar – as is so often the case. Legally, a personal injury case turns on two major components: liability, and damages.
Before an injured party can begin talking about how they can be justly compensated, they must first prove that their injury is the fault of someone else. In order to do that, they must establish liability. The most common theory of liability in personal injury cases is negligence. If you read about negligence in a legal text book, you’ll find that there are five elements: duty, breach, cause, proximate cause, and harm. Rather than writing page upon page about each of those concepts, negligence can be fairly summarized as follows: all persons are generally required to act reasonable and prudent under their current circumstances. If a person doesn’t act this way, and as a result, someone is injured, the injured party can seek compensation from the party who caused their injury.
Once liability is established, the question in a personal injury case then becomes, how can the injured party be compensated. This compensation is subject to the unfortunately reality that time cannot be reversed: some wounds may not heal, pain cannot be forgotten, or in the worst cases of all, loved ones cannot be brought back. The result is that the only compensation available, and which courts can award, is dollars and cents. There are two broad categories of damages: pecuniary, and non-pecuniary. Or, in actual english, damages that can be precisely calculated (think doctor’s bills, lost wages, and the like) and damages that cannot be calculated (physical and emotional pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement). The amount of compensation you are owed is based upon the sum of all the damages you can prove. Some injured parties believe that’s a piece of cake – they’ll just tell the party who harmed them that they’ve had to pay medical bills, that the total was a certain amount, and that moreover they would like some flat dollar amount for their physical and emotional pain and suffering. These individuals are oftentimes surprised to learn that responsible parties – and the companies that insure them – aren’t, generally falling over themselves to pay them money. Do yourself a favor if you have been injured in Tennessee, and hire the best personal injury lawyer to handle your case.