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It's rare, but every now and then we can find ourselves on the other end of a personal injury lawsuit. Someone could be saying that you caused the car accident, or that they slipped on your icy sidewalk. And while their claims may not seem to you to have any merit whatsoever, that doesn't mean that you can ignore them, or that a court or judge may not agree with you.
So what should you do if someone sues you for injuries? Here are a few tips:
The majority of personal injury lawsuits are negligence claims, which are premised on four main elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. Here's a quick breakdown of the elements and how you may counter them.
Duty: The argument that you owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
Such a duty arises where there is some legal relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff, and due to this relationship, the defendant is obligated to act in a certain manner toward the plaintiff. For example you may owe a duty to drive safely to other motorists on the road, or a duty to pedestrians to shovel your sidewalk. You could argue that you never owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
Breach: The argument that you failed to meet the duty of care.
A defendant breaches such a duty by failing to exercise reasonable care in fulfilling the duty. You could argue that you met the duty of care, by shoveling the walk, driving carefully, or otherwise acting reasonably and responsibly.
Causation: The argument that your breach (and not something else) caused the injuries.
Causation means both that, but for your breach, the injuries would not have occurred, and that you could have foreseen that some injury would occur from the breach. You could argue that there was no way to foresee the plaintiff would be injured, or that the plaintiff was also responsible for his or her injuries (more on that one later).
Damages: The argument that injuries occurred and can be compensated.
Damages are generally money to compensate the plaintiff for medical expenses, lost wages, or other harm. You could argue that the plaintiff was not injured, or at least not in a way that is financially compensable.
There are also some defenses to lawsuits that admit the facts of the elements, but counter that there is some other reason the defendant should be liable. These are known as "affirmative defenses," and in the realm of personal injury cases, take the form of contributory negligence, comparative negligence, and assumption of risk.
Contributory negligence contends the plaintiff was also negligent, and in some states this can mean the defendant cannot recover any damages. Comparative negligence tries to apportion a percentage of blame to each party, and will allot damages corresponding to a party's share of the blame. And an assumption of risk argument contends the plaintiff knew of the possible dangers and took part anyway, forfeiting any claim for damages.
Any personal injury suit is serious and potentially complex. And only an experienced personal injury attorney will know the best defense in your case.