Personal Injury FAQ’s
- If a dog bites a person, is the owner liable for doctor’s bills?
- Can a person recover damages for injuries suffered on someone else’s property?
- What is a slip-and-fall action?
- Can anyone bring a wrongful death claim?
- Learn more: plaintiffs personal injury law
In general, yes. An owner of a dog, or any animal for that matter, may be held liable for injuries that animal causes to others. However, the ease with which a plaintiff can win a “dog bite” lawsuit differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending on the legal theory of recovery available in the plaintiff’s location. Some jurisdictions require the plaintiff to show that the animal owner knew, or should have known, that the animal was inclined to attack or bite. In other jurisdictions, the plaintiff may only need to show negligence on the part of the owner to recover money for his or her injuries. If a wild animal such as a lion, bear or monkey injures the plaintiff, the animal’s owner may be held accountable under a theory of strict liability for plaintiff’s injuries regardless of the plaintiff’s conduct.
Some states have “dog bite” statutes designed to address these very matters. Additionally, some municipalities may also have their own statutes to address the responsibility of pet owners to answer for the actions of their pets.
If the plaintiff is an adult, the owner of an animal may offer as a defense to the plaintiff’s claim that the injured party provoked the animal. Where the plaintiff has been given clear warning that an animal should not be approached, petted or talked to and still proceeds with that action, the owner may be able to avoid responsibility if the animal thereafter attacks the plaintiff. This defense is not available, however, if the plaintiff is a child.
Once the plaintiff has established that the animal owner is liable for his or her injuries, the plaintiff must also establish the amount of his or her damages. The plaintiff should introduce evidence, such as doctor and hospital bills, of how much it has cost to treat the injury. In addition, the plaintiff may be able to recover lost wages if the injury kept the plaintiff out of work. The plaintiff is entitled to compensation for any permanent disability caused by the injury, as well as compensation for pain and suffering.
An owner of property has a duty to protect members of the public from injury that may occur upon the property. The injured person may be able to recover money for those injuries if he or she can prove that the property owner failed to meet that duty. The hurdle plaintiffs face is that the nature and extent of the property owner’s duty will vary depending upon the facts of the situation and the jurisdiction in question.
Some states focus solely upon the status of the injured visitor to the property. These states divide the potential status into three categories: invitee, licensee and trespasser. An invitee is someone who has been invited onto the land because that person will confer some advantage to the property owner, such as a store patron. An owner of property is required to exercise reasonable care for the safety of the invitee. A licensee is someone who enters upon the land for his or her own purpose and is present at the consent, but not the invitation, of the owner. For example, a door-to-door salesman who enters the property and stays to chat with the owner about the product that he is selling is a licensee. The owner’s duty to a licensee is only to warn of hidden dangers. For example, if the owner knew the front step was rotten and did not warn the salesman, the salesman may be able to recover if he thereafter falls through the step and injures himself. Finally, a trespasser is an individual who enters onto the property without the knowledge or consent of the owner and who remains there without any right or permission. Trespassers have difficulty suing property owners because property owners’ duty toward trespassers is not to place traps and hazards on their property. In some cases, the owner must also warn trespassers of the hazards if they are unlikely to be discovered by the trespasser and could cause serious injury or death.
Other states focus upon the condition of the property and the activities of both the visitor and owner, rather than considering only the status of the visitor. In these states, a uniform standard that requires the owner of the property to exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of invitees and licensees is generally applied. The plaintiff must prove that the duty of care has not been met through an examination of the circumstances surrounding the entry on the property, the use to which the property is put, the foreseeability of the plaintiff’s injury and the reasonableness of placing a warning or repairing the condition. Obviously, whether reasonable care has been rendered depends greatly upon the particular circumstances.
The property owner’s duty of care toward children is greater than the duty owed to adults. Even if the children are trespassers or engage in dangerous behavior, the property owner must still take precautions to prevent foreseeable harm to children. The classic example of a property owner’s greater duty of care to children arises in the context of backyard swimming pools. Owners must fence, gate and lock their pools in a manner that keeps children out. If they fail to do so, they will be found liable for injuries to children, even if the children were trespassers who were warned to stay off the property.
A slip-and-fall action is a type of personal injury lawsuit filed by a plaintiff who has been injured in a slip-and-fall, usually on the defendant’s property. Examples of common slip-and-fall plaintiffs include the grocery store patron who slips on a spill or a piece of food laying on the floor and falls, causing injury to himself or herself or a hotel guest who slips in the shower and suffers back injuries.
The plaintiff in slip-and-fall cases must usually show that the owner of the property had notice or knowledge of the condition and failed to clean it up and rectify it within a reasonable time. If the plaintiff slipped on a grape that had been lying on the floor for two hours, and the manager of the store had walked past it and inspected it five times before asking someone to clean it up, liability is likely.
If the plaintiff has knowingly encountered a hazard, then he or she may have trouble holding the defendant liable. For example, if a hotel guest squirts baby oil onto the floor of the shower, steps into the shower and attempts to do the jitterbug and then falls and breaks an ankle, liability on the part of the hotel is highly questionable. However, if the cleaning staff in the hotel repeatedly tells management that the nonskid treads in the bathtub for room 212 are missing and the hotel fails to replace them, the hotel will probably be liable for damages to a guest who is injured.
No. Generally, most states that recognize a wrongful death cause of action limit the pool of potential plaintiffs. Some states limit this group to the deceased’s primary beneficiaries, defined as the surviving spouse and the deceased’s children. Other states allow the parents of the deceased individual to bring a wrongful death claim. In addition to these individuals, some states recognize the rights of any dependent, whether closely related or not, to bring a wrongful death claim, provided the person actually depended on the deceased for economic support. In those jurisdictions, it apparently makes little to no sense to allow the second cousin once removed of the deceased, who saw him once every five years at a family reunion, to recover for the loss of the deceased’s future earning potential.
Some states require any recovery gained in a wrongful death action to be divided among the deceased’s heirs at law or to be distributed to the deceased’s heirs at law as it would be in any normal probate proceeding. In these situations, distant relatives may receive some “trickle down” of damages, even though they were not financially dependent upon the deceased.
If more than one plaintiff is entitled to recover, all plaintiffs will share in the award. The manner in which the award is divided can be confusing and will depend upon the laws in the particular jurisdiction where the matter is brought.
By their nature, personal injury actions require that someone be injured. The requisite injury can either be physical or, in some cases, emotional. The general goal of personal injury actions is to place the blame for the injury on the party that caused it and to require the party to compensate the injured for the losses sustained.
Not every injured plaintiff is entitled to recover damages for the injury he or she sustains. Besides an injury, the plaintiff must establish, through evidence, that the defendant is legally liable for his or her injuries. This requires proof of causation both in terms of actual, factual causation and proximate, or legal causation. Whether legal causation is established depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular matter in question. The defendant can be held liable as a result of either the actions that are taken, or the actions that are not taken.
Some personal injury actions revolve around legal causation derived from a concept of intentional conduct, whereby it is generally held that if one intentionally harms another, or knows that the conduct that is engaged in causes a substantial likelihood that harm will result, liability for the resulting harm will in fact attach. Other personal injury actions have as their legal causation a looser concept of fault called negligence. Under a negligence theory, in comparison, one is liable for the results of actions, or inaction, where an ordinary person in the same position should have foreseen that the conduct would create an unreasonable risk of harm to others. Still other types of personal injury actions are based on strict liability, a no-fault system where liability may attach regardless of the fault of the various parties, including the plaintiff.
In some situations, the defendant’s conduct, while questionable, does not rise to a level that entitles the plaintiff to a recovery. For example, if a plaintiff knowingly and willfully chooses to encounter a known hazard, the law holds that he or she has “assumed the risk of injury,” and therefore the defendant is not liable. This theory applies for instance in a case where the plaintiff walks on an obvious buildup of snow and ice caused by the defendant property owner’s failure to shovel his sidewalk, falls and breaks her hip, and is unable to recover for her injuries because she knew of the hazardous condition and willingly chose to encounter it. Plaintiffs are denied recovery in other cases if their subjective belief about a situation does not match an objective “reasonable person” standard. For instance, where the defendant approaches the plaintiff and states, “I might poke you in the eye if you wear that red sweater again,” it is likely that no actionable assault occurred since there was no immediate threat of harm that caused reasonable apprehension on the part of the plaintiff.
Personal injury law can involve many types of claims, theories and principles. Some of the more common, or interesting, types of personal injury actions include:
Animal bites can result in the animal owner’s liability to the person who is bitten or who is injured while trying to avoid a bite.
Assault and battery are two intentional torts that involve improper contact with another, without permission or consent, or the threat of such contact.
Aviation accidents quite often result in either serious injury or death. When these accidents occur, serious questions regarding the liability of the airline, its employees or the government may arise.
Defamation and privacy are two separate causes of action that concern the rights of individuals to have their names and reputations protected and to have their privacy preserved.
Motor vehicle accidents raise numerous questions as to the liability of one participant to another and also raise interesting questions regarding who should be responsible for covering the losses.
Premises liability concerns the responsibilities of owners and possessors of property to safeguard others from dangerous conditions or hazards on the property and to prevent others from being injured while on the property.
Property damage causes of action concern the rights of owners or possessors of property to protect their property from damage, theft or intrusion.
Railroad accidents may result in personal injury or death and subject the railroad to liability.
Slip-and-fall cases are common causes of action and relate closely to the duty of an owner or possessor of land to maintain the property in a safe manner for the benefit of others lawfully entering upon the land.
Wrongful death actions may be brought by the dependents or beneficiaries of a deceased individual against the party whose action or inaction was causally related to the death.