There is a tendency when talking about lawsuits to be fixated on the injury. Have you ever heard someone say any of the following, or felt like saying them yourself?
- “Because of that car accident, I broke my back and needed surgery!”
- “After I slip and fell, I had a torn meniscus.”
- “When that police officer handcuffed me, he broke two of my ribs.”
It’s human nature to want someone to empathize with your pain. That’s understandable. What makes things difficult is when the person involved files a lawsuit and thinks that, because they suffered a bad injury, the case will be worth a lot of money. That is sometimes the case, sure, but not always.
In example 1 above, that sounds like a case that could be worth a LOT of money, particularly if there was a large insurance policy available. Would you still think that if you found out that the person who got hurt rammed into an 18-wheeler that was stopped in traffic? Obviously not. In example 2, what if the person fell in their own apartment on some rice that they themselves spilled? In example 3, what if the plaintiff threatened the police officer first?
There are cases that have slam-dunk liability, but often times it isn’t so clear cut. Let’s look at a hypothetical automobile accident. What if someone was riding very close behind the plaintiff who saw a squirrel in the road and had to stop short. Sure, the defendant behind them shouldn’t have been riding so close, but stopping short is what caused the accident. The plaintiff may well have a case to pursue, but it’s not clear-cut liability. In that case, it could come down to how a jury sees the facts of the case.
The news gets worse. Some states behave like that: it comes down to a jury’s decision. However, some states have certain provisions in place concerning collecting in a lawsuit. In about a dozen states, you can still try to file a lawsuit if you are not 100% at fault. However, in 33 states, if you are more than half at fault, you cannot receive any money for your damages. There are even five states (including the District of Columbia) where if you are only 1% at fault for the accident, you cannot receive an award. That’s pretty brutal. A complete list of contributory negligence states can be found here.
So What About My Case?
While that applies mainly to motor vehicle accidents, liability is even more important in other case types. How about an assault case where two patrons at a bar get in a fight? They may both claim the other started it, but both took part in the actual fighting. How do you determine what percentage each was at fault? That’s where witnesses and video cameras help out.
In today’s world, you can help yourself out with liability. If you are involved in an accident and you see there are people around who witnessed the accident, try to get them to write a quick statement (or have them talk to the police if they are called). On a set of steps that breaks? Take pictures of the defect with your cell phone right away. If you are being assaulted, try to film the incident if you can do so in a safe way. These can all be used as evidence in court, and they can go a long way to getting you a favorable verdict.
While it’s true you won’t get a big settlement if you don’t have a severe injury, there’s more to a lawsuit. The defendant you’re suing needs to have the means to pay you. You need to have a good lawyer. And most importantly, you need to have liability on your side. If you have all of these things, you’re bound to get the financial justice you deserve.