How Is “Personal Injury” Defined in Legal Terms?

Although the concept of a personal injury is fairly clear to the average person, it takes on a different meaning from a legal perspective. Like most things related to the law, the exact definition of personal injury probably differs from how most people perceive it. Fortunately, Houston, TX abides by the Texas Civil Code, which is fairly easy to understand. Personal injury law is actually quite simple, as you’ll see.

We’re going to examine just how personal injury is defined and even provide the specific statutes that you can reference yourself. If you’re still not sure if your personal injury qualifies for a lawsuit, then reach out to our office for more information.

How Is Personal Injury Law Defined in Houston, TX?

The Civil Practice and Remedies Code of Texas is the legal document that outlines all of the cases that fall under civil law, which is separate from criminal law. In particular, we’re interested in Title 4, Chapter 71. While this chapter is specifically titled “Wrongful Death”, its rules apply likewise to injuries that do not result in death. By starting with the most extreme cases, we can work backwards to determine what a personal injury is.

There are two key terms to define here: Person, and injury. Again, these might seem like obvious terms to the average person. But to understand your potential lawsuit better, it helps to look through the lens of a lawyer.

The Definition of a Person

We tend to think of a person as just that: a person. And while a human being certainly qualifies as a person under Sec. 71.001., it’s not the only definition that matters to personal injury cases. A person can also be an association of individuals or a joint-stock company, or even a corporation! This means that businesses can file personal injury claims if they have been injured by another’s actions.

Furthermore, an individual person is defined with even more detail in subsection (4). Per Texas law, that definition includes unborn children at every stage of gestation. This definition has led to personal injury suits where unborn babies were harmed by dangerous products or faulty medications, for example.

Understanding Injury

The other half of the definition relates to the term “injury”. Although the first thought that comes to your mind is probably a medical injury, the legal definition goes further. Injury is essentially another word for damages. Damages come in two forms: Economic and non-economic. Any action that caused you damages can be considered an injury. The specific details for damages are outlined in Title 2, Chapter 41 of the Civil Code.

Economic damages reflect the actual economic loss that you experienced. For example, if you’re struck by a vehicle and needed to pay $50,000 in medical bills, that would be an example of economic damages. However, economic damages go beyond the money you pay out of pocket. They can include future damages, perhaps due to inability to work and therefore a loss of earnings. The time you spent away from work recovering from your injury is also a form of economic damage.

Non-Economic Damages

These are damages that specifically relate to pain and suffering. They are most likely to arise when a medical injury has occurred, although they can be assessed in some cases for a person’s inconvenience or stress due to other causes. Consider, for instance, a business owner that files a personal injury suit because an individual vandalized their business. The business owner had economic damages in the form of repair and possibly lost business, but they also had non-economic damages.

Those might include the stress of having to deal with cleanup and the unexpected interruptions to the business. The combination of both economic and non-economic damages is termed “Compensatory damages” in the Civil Code. However, for damages to be compensated in court, another important threshold must be met.

Negligence and Malice

In order for damages to be awarded to you, your case must also meet the standards for negligence or malice. An accident that you were mainly responsible for will not entitle you to any damages. You must show, as Chapter 41 explains in subsection (2), “clear and convincing” evidence that the damages occurred and were the result of another party’s negligence or malice.

Negligence involves ignoring laws or prudent actions that could prevent a problem. For example, if a business cleans the floor and fails to put a yellow warning sign in the area, that is an example of negligence. They could have prevented a slip-and-fall scenario. A driver running a red light is also an example of negligence. Malice requires proof of intent to injure or harm someone, which often results in both criminal and civil penalties.

Common Types of Personal Injuries

Texas law does not limit personal injury lawsuits to any specific scenarios. Provided the aforementioned conditions are met, you may be eligible to file a claim against a defendant to receive compensation for your damages. However, there are several common scenarios that you may not have considered as personal injuries.

Workplace Accidents

Injuries that occur on the job may qualify for lawsuits if your employer was negligent leading up to your injury. Forcing you to work in dangerous conditions without the proper safety equipment or ignoring other protocols is, unfortunately, a common way that workplace accidents occur.

Many people are afraid to file a lawsuit in these cases because they do not wish to upset their employer. However, legal action is often the only way an employer will take action to prevent future injuries, and is your best chance to receive the compensation you deserve.

Traffic Accidents

If you were involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in personal injury, you may be able to receive compensation if the other driver is found to be mostly at fault. If you are partially to blame, your damages can be reduced by the amount the court finds you at fault.

Car insurance companies typically oversee these claims, but if you disagree with the settlement offered, you can pursue a case in court.

Property Accidents

Also known as premises liabilities, these cases occur when you are injured while on someone else’s property. The most common example is a slip-and-fall injury at a business. As in vehicular accidents, property insurance will likely try to intervene and settle out of court, but you may consider pursuing it further.

How Much Time Do I Have to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

If you’ve been injured, you have up to two years to file a lawsuit in court. This statute of limitations is extended if you were a minor at the time of the injury. However, we always recommend beginning proceedings as soon as possible. Reacting quickly to the situation makes it easier to gather the clear and convincing evidence necessary for a successful case. It will also convey to the jury that your case was serious and that it merits compensation.  

How Can I Start a Personal Injury Claim?

You will need legal representation to have the best chance of success in court. If you believe your case merits consideration, call Abraham Watkins in Houston, TX today. We’ll walk you through the process and fight to get you the compensation your case calls for.