Personal Injury

Personal injury lawyers help people recover compensation for injuries to their persons. An injury to the person will often have a financial impact, but personal injuries differ from breach of contract, property damage, and other purely economic harms. 

Personal injuries usually, but not always, involve a physical injury to a victim’s body. The term “bodily injury” describes a subset of personal injuries. While all bodily injuries can be personal injuries, not all personal injuries involve bodily injury.

While “personal injury” and “bodily injury” are not interchangeable terms, they are both commonly used in the law of negligence. All people have a duty to be careful to avoid causing a foreseeable injury to another person. The law of negligence holds people responsible for careless acts that cause another person’s injury.

When negligent acts cause a death, wrongful death law determines who can recover compensation for the death and how that compensation should be measured. A wrongful death typically arises out of a personal injury. Wrongful death and personal injury claims are often based on the same principles of negligence.

Bodily Injury

“Bodily injury” is a term used in insurance contracts. The contracts typically describe a bodily injury as physical harm. Broken legs and torn muscles are examples of bodily injuries.

Many kinds of insurance policies cover liability for bodily injuries. Car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, and general liability policies purchased by business owners all protect insured persons and companies from liability if they accidentally cause bodily injury to another person. Insurance policies limit the amount of compensation that an insurer will pay. If a jury awards damages that exceed those limits, the negligent party is usually responsible for paying the portion of the verdict that insurance does not cover.

Mental injuries are not physical injuries. Bodily injury coverage does not usually cover mental injuries in the absence of a physical injury. They do usually cover mental injuries that are caused by a physical injury. Injury victims are entitled to compensation for pain and suffering that is caused by a bodily injury. 

Bodily injury coverage rarely pays compensation for an emotional harm that does not arise from a physical injury. The emotional distress of being physically injured, on the other hand, is commonly included in the compensation paid to injury victims under a bodily injury policy. Emotional distress might include anxiety caused by an inability to work, anguish caused by an inability to lift a child, depression caused by the inability to play sports or engage in hobbies, and any number of other negative emotional reactions to being injured.

Insurance coverage for a bodily injury typically covers economic harms that result from the injury. For example, a business that fails to repair a pothole in its parking lot will probably be responsible for the broken ankle a customer sustains after stepping into the pothole and tripping. Insurance coverage should pay for the financial consequences of the broken ankle, including medical expenses incurred to treat the injury and lost wages that accumulate while the accident victim is unable to work.

Personal Injury

Unsurprisingly, a personal injury is an injury to the person for which another person is legally responsible. Personal injuries can be inflicted intentionally or negligently. The intentional infliction of an injury is addressed by a body of law known as “intentional torts.” Assault is an example of an intentional tort. 

Insurance rarely covers the intentional infliction of injury. For that reason, intentional harms are often addressed by criminal law. It may not be possible to obtain compensation from an attacker who has limited assets, particularly if the attacker is sent to prison. The law nevertheless makes it possible to seek compensation for injuries that are inflicted intentionally.

Unlike bodily injury claims, personal injury claims can occasionally be based on emotional injuries even in the absence of an accompanying physical injury. The circumstances under which a “pure” emotional injury claim can be asserted are limited. State laws differ, but most states permit victims to sue for an exceptionally severe emotional injury that is inflicted intentionally. 

Some states also permit the recovery of compensation by people who witness another person being injured. That recovery is usually reserved for close relatives of the injury victim. Recovery might also be limited to people who were in close proximity to the accident and feared that they too would be injured.

Most personal injury cases, however, are based on negligent acts that result in a bodily injury, including accompanying emotional distress. Common personal injury cases include:

1. Car and truck accidents
2. Collisions with motorcycles
3. Slips, trips, and falls caused by hazardous property conditions
4. Medical malpractice
5. Injuries caused by defective products
6. Dog bites
7. Negligent use of weapons
8. Dropping objects from a height that fall on a victim

Personal injury cases are closely related to wrongful death cases. The primary difference is that the injury results in a death. Spouses, children, and some other close relatives, or the victim’s estate, may be able to bring and participate in a wrongful death claim, depending on state law. If the victim suffered before dying, the victim’s estate may also be entitled to bring a survival claim to recover compensation for the pain and suffering that preceded the victim’s death.

Personal Injury Protection Claims

In Florida and a few other states, the ability to bring a claim for compensation arising out of the negligent operation of a motor vehicle is constrained by a “no fault insurance” law. Victims of traffic accident injuries in Florida are usually required to bring claims against their own insurance company rather than the negligent driver.

Most states require drivers to purchase bodily injury insurance with certain minimum coverage limits. Bodily injury insurance is not required in Florida. Instead, drivers must purchase Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. That insurance is required to pay a percentage of the driver’s medical bills and lost wages (up to a $10,000 policy limit). Florida PIP insurance benefits do not depend on proving fault for the accident. However, the benefits do not cover pain and suffering or emotional distress damages.

Florida law also prohibits suing a negligent driver unless the accident victim’s injuries are significant and permanent. Even then, the injury victim must hope that the negligent driver purchased bodily injury insurance, as drivers who only have PIP insurance may be unable to pay damages for the victim’s losses.