Navigating the labyrinth that is our civil litigation system can be a tiring and exasperating process. For those people that have endured pain and suffering from a personal injury of some sort and are seeking redress, the stress and hassle of figuring out whether they need a personal injury attorney alone can be trying. However, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it can appear. Many people abandon any hope of receiving compensation, figuring the hassle of the justice system isn’t worth it. While navigating a personal injury claim can be both difficult and trying, it represents a way to hold the party responsible for your injury accountable. Even more importantly, civil litigation can often serve as a deterrent for the guilty party to ensure that they don’t make the same mistakes twice. In this article, we’ll outline what a personal injury law is, what personal injury attorneys do and their role in general civil litigation entails, and provide some insights into when you need a personal injury lawyer. This information should prove helpful for individuals who themselves are victims of a personal injury, or with a family member that may have suffered a personal injury, and might be figuring out the next step to take.
General Civil Litigation and Tort Law
The first step in understanding what a personal injury attorney does is to gain a basic understanding of the legal system that personal injury lawyers navigate. Accident attorneys such as these, practice a type of law known as “tort” law. Stemming from the Latin word tortum, meaning wrong or injustice, tort law is a form of civil law whereby the injured party can seek and receive redress from the defendant. A tort refers to a civil wrong but is distinguished from contract law violations and criminal law violations. Put another way, a tort law case is typically conducted between private parties as a method to redress any wrongs done to the plaintiff if the case has merit. So, in a tort case, a private party files suit against another private party in order to seek some form of compensation for a wrong or perceived wrong.
Tort cases are distinguished from criminal cases by the fact that the state or federal government brings a criminal law case against the defendant. Criminal law cases are brought about when a person has committed a crime that generally endangers all of society, whereas tort or civil cases are typically between private parties. That being said, these two types of cases can intersect in some situations. For example, a person involved in an automobile accident may have criminal charges brought against them if they were breaking a law, while at the same time a private party injured as a result of their actions could bring a civil suit against them for compensation.
Understanding the difference between tort law and criminal law is important because it helps clear up any misunderstandings of what potential outcomes from the suit are possible. While a criminal case can result in fines or incarceration, civil suits do not result in incarceration for the defendant. Rather, civil suits are a method to receive redress for an injury, whether that injury is physical, psychological, or emotional. The purpose of tort law is to ensure that private parties have a means of receiving fair compensation for any injury they may have suffered due to another party’s intentional act or negligence.
One key difference between criminal and tort law is the burden of proof that must be presented. Many individuals who have suffered some type of injury give up on their suit before it has even started because they mistakenly apply the burden of proof required in criminal cases to a civil case. The reality is that criminal cases have a much higher standard by which parties can be found guilty. The burden of proof standard in criminal cases is beyond a reasonable doubt. In a criminal case, the evidence must show that a reasonable person would have no doubt that the defendant committed the crime. This burden of proof is exceptionally high, and is much higher than the burden of proof required in tort law cases.
The burden of proof in tort cases, of which personal injury is one, is by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the evidence must show that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s negligence led to an injury to the plaintiff, or that the defendant likely intentionally caused harm to the plaintiff. The lower burden of proof is beneficial to the plaintiff by lessening the requirement for them to secure a favorable settlement. Conversely, the poor understanding that many people have of general civil litigation causes cases that can be won under the burden of proof requirements in civil cases to instead be dropped before they are begun.
The Role of a Personal Injury Attorney
In general civil litigation, a personal injury attorney isn’t strictly necessary. A private citizen can choose to represent themselves in a case involving tort law. In some instances, self-representation can be adequate to achieve your desired outcome. If you are asking yourself, “do I need a personal injury attorney?” it may be helpful to understand what the role of a personal injury attorney is in general civil litigation.
In a personal injury case, a personal injury lawyer serves as legal representation for the client, or the plaintiff, in the case. An experienced personal injury attorney most often specializes specifically in tort law cases that involve personal injury due to another party’s negligence or intention. These include automobile accidents, accidents where the injured party slips and falls, traumatic brain injuries, and catastrophic injuries to name a few. Some personal injury attorneys may also practice other areas of law that still fall under the umbrella of general civil litigation, such as construction litigation. By specializing in personal injury litigation, a personal injury attorney is able to hone their knowledge and understanding of the current legal landscape, including relevant cases that may increase the chances of securing a favorable ruling for the client. So, one of the first and most important aspects of the role of a personal injury attorney is expertise in the field. Successful personal injury attorneys will have a demonstrated track record of winning a variety of personal injury lawsuit cases and will have the knowledge base to successfully litigate personal injury cases.
Personal injury attorneys are also known as trial lawyers or litigators due to the fact that a core aspect of their role in a case is to argue the case in court. Although trial appearance is an important and highly visible aspect of what a personal injury attorney does, it is far from the only service they provide to their client. Personal injury attorneys will also conduct interviews with witnesses to the incident, gathering evidence for the trial. They may need to interview and call on scientific experts to argue the merits of the client’s claim. A personal injury attorney will ensure that your paperwork is filed on time, draft complaints, respond to any document requests, and handle the jury selection so that the client gets the most favorable jury possible. In essence, a personal injury attorney will handle all the required paperwork to get ready for a trial, which can be substantial. Personal injury attorneys will also craft a trial strategy, and finally represent the client in court to argue their case.
When Do You Need a Personal Injury Attorney?
Personal injury attorneys fill a critical role in tort law cases due to their expertise in the field and knowledge of relevant cases and trial strategies. An important aspect of civil litigation that many private individuals fail to understand when representing themselves is the work required to file your case and prepare for trial. Personal injury attorneys help alleviate the stress of this for clients by ensuring all paperwork is submitted by the required deadlines.
So, while a personal injury lawyer can be extremely helpful, when is it advised that a plaintiff seeks representation in their case? The answer is complicated and largely comes down to the individual case, client, and injuries. The general recommendation is to seek out a personal injury attorney when injuries have incurred significant medical expenses or have resulted in permanent or life-altering disability. In cases where a significant injury has occurred it is generally recommended to consult with a personal injury attorney. In cases that will require the testimony of experts in complex fields, such as medical malpractice or environmental pollution, it is highly recommended to consult a personal injury attorney or law firm that specializes in that area.
Rather than provide a definitive list of when you should seek out a personal injury attorney, it is recommended that you consult with a personal injury attorney to find out if your case has merit and whether a personal injury attorney is even necessary. In some instances, a personal injury attorney may not be necessary. This is particularly true in straightforward cases that are likely to get settled out of court. A personal injury attorney can offer some guidance as to the merits of the case and whether or not you will need their expertise to secure a favorable outcome.