An Introduction to Personal Injury Law

Have you suffered personal injuries because someone else acted carelessly or irresponsibly? The law of personal injury covers several different types of accidents, including car accidents, dog bites, slip and falls, medical malpractice and major products defects. Most personal injury cases arise out of someone else’s “negligence,” which brings up a complex legal doctrine. There are many lawyers in Western Pennsylvania who can help you, but at Behrend and Ernsberger, P.C., our attorneys possess the skill and experience necessary to help you recover your medical expenses and lost wages, as well as compensate you for your pain and suffering in a negligence case. Moreover, if you are married, your spouse may also have a claim for “loss of consortium” if he or she has suffered as a result of your injury.

What is Negligence?

Negligence is a legal theory that allows an injured victim to recover for his or her injuries that are caused by the carelessness of someone else. In order to prove negligence, you must show that you were owed a legal duty by the person who injured you. This duty is generally the amount of care that a reasonable person would take in the situation. To meet the duty, a reasonable person will take the necessary steps to protect others from injuries that could have been foreseen. For instance, a motorist owes a duty to a pedestrian to stop while the pedestrian crosses the street.

After proving a duty, you need to show next that the person who injured you breached his duty to you. For instance, if a motorist drives through a red light at an intersection and hits a pedestrian who is crossing the street at a cross walk, the motorist has breached his duty to stop and allow the pedestrian to cross.

Once the breach of a duty has been established, you must show that the breach of a duty caused your injuries. This can be more complicated than it sounds. For instance, if it was raining at night and the pedestrian was hidden behind a bush and then darted out onto an interstate without looking, the motorist would still owe a duty to not injure the pedestrian, but the motorist did not cause the accident. In some negligence cases, causation can be extremely difficult to prove, so hiring the right attorney is important. After proving the duty, the breach, and the cause, you still must prove your injuries. This requires proving that your injury was caused by the careless person. For instance, if a pedestrian has many medical problems before being hit by a car, the pedestrian will have to show what his new injuries are, or what injuries became worse after the accident. Depending on the circumstances, a lawsuit can involve a major fight over what your injuries actually are. You should take the utmost care to hire a team of lawyers who fully understand your medical history so as to ensure that you are compensated for the injuries you suffered as a result of someone else’s carelessness.

In order to get through all of these steps, you need a team of experienced and skilled attorneys. Failure to prove a duty, a breach, a cause, or an injury destroys your case. Therefore, it is extremely important that you contact the experienced attorneys at Behrend and Ernsberger, P.C.. We have the professional experience necessary to navigate the many twists and turns a negligence case may take.

What are some common types of negligence?

Motor vehicle accidents are an extremely common form of negligence cases. In almost every car accident, someone is at fault. Whether the at-fault driver failed to stop at a red light, crossed the center line, or made any of the other hundreds of mistakes that drivers make, you will have to prove that the at-fault driver did in fact make that mistake.

Slip and fall injuries are also very common cases. Whether you are in a store or outside on an icy sidewalk, you have to prove that the owner of the land owed a duty to you and that the owner could (or should) have fixed the problem. In Pennsylvania, if you slip on ice, the important question is whether or not the ice had formed “hills and ridges.” Proving that hills and ridges of ice were present can be difficult, so hiring an attorney who is experienced in slip and fall cases is critical to the success of your case.

Dog bites are another frequent type of negligence case. While most dogs are the best friends of their master, some dogs may have a tendency to bite strangers. Even small dogs can deliver painful bites that produce bigger consequences than you might imagine, while bigger and meaner dogs can severely injure or even kill people. The key question in a dog bite case is whether the owner knew that the dog had a tendency to bite people.

In order to prove the key issues in these types of cases, you will have to engage in discovery. Discovery is the process by which an injured person attempts to learn what the owner or at-fault person was doing before the accident. Discovery can involve the examination of thousands of documents, including medical records, tax records, police reports, or business records. Discovery can take a long time, too, so you need to hire a law firm that is capable of dealing with the massive volume of information. For instance, if you slip on a puddle at a grocery store, you must learn through discovery if the store has a plan in place to seek dangerous puddles and, if so, how long the puddle was on the ground. The experienced team of attorneys at Behrend and Ernsberger, P.C. knows what they are looking for in negligence cases and will be able to find the important information to help you win your case.

What role does insurance play?

Insurance is everywhere in the United States and Pennsylvania. In fact, Pennsylvania law requires you to carry a certain amount of insurance on your car. But do you really know the ins and outs of insurance? Most insurance companies are very large corporations that do business in several states, and they know that most of their customers don’t understand some of the small, but important, details of their policies. An insurance company does not grow so large without trying to maximize profits, meaning that the company will attempt to bring in the highest possible premium while paying the minimum amount of claims possible. In many cases, insurance companies will not be willing to give you what you deserve immediately following your accident.

The process of making a claim can be complicated, too. If you are injured, you may have to claim your first-party benefits as well as the third party liability benefits of the person who injured you. If the person who injured you doesn’t have enough coverage, you may have to go back to your insurance carrier to get Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist coverage (UM/UIM). This is not an easy process, especially while you are recovering from your injuries.

If the health benefits of your policy and the wrongdoer’s policy do not cover your medical expenses, your health insurance may step in to cover the rest. If you have health insurance from Medicaid, Medicare, or an employer-provided plan, that insurance may have a right of subrogation. If you sue the wrongdoer and recover money either from the jury or from a settlement, your health insurer may be able to subrogate, meaning that your health insurer is allowed to recover the money it spent on your care. Consulting with an attorney from Behrend and Ernsberger, P.C. is an important step to deal with a potential subrogation issue.

The bottom line is simple: If you have suffered a personal injury, the complexity of your case can become overwhelming, so call the team at Behrend and Ernsberger, P.C. today at (412) 391-2515.