Who Can Make a Personal Injury Claim?

It is a common saying that you can sue anyone for anything in America. People often use this to dismiss personal injury claims that they view as frivolous or financially motivated. However, the reality is often very different when you are in the shoes of the plaintiff. What people do not seem to understand about duty of care and personal injury lawsuits is that these regulations and proceedings are made to protect the public and improve consumer safety. For members of the public, it can be a comfort to know that other people and businesses can be held liable for neglecting to provide a safe environment for others. As a business that wants to remain legitimate and look after its customer base, it is essential to take duty of care seriously.

Who Has a Duty of Care?

What exactly, then, is duty of care? The duty of care standard applies to everyone—individuals and businesses. It is the expectation that everyone has the legal duty to act in a reasonable manner to prevent injury or harm to others. As every situation is different, specific facts of each case must be examined before a ‘reasonable’ standard can be determined. Certain professions have a higher duty of care expectation than regular occupations. For example, doctors not only have to act in a reasonable manner, but they must also perform their tasks with the skill and competence expected of their level of appointment. Similarly, public transport drivers, known as common carriers, could be held liable for injuries sustained by their passengers in the event of an accident that was not entirely their fault. Likewise, businesses are subject to deeper scrutiny when it comes to duty of care because they operate for profit. They need to ensure that their premises are devoid of defects that could endanger customers, immediately deal with any potential hazards, and place appropriate signage in areas of concern. If a person or business breaches their duty of care, they could be legally liable for any harm suffered by a third party.

When we talk about personal injury and duty of care, a case that stands out in most civilian minds is the Liebeck v. McDonald’s case or the ‘Hot Coffee Lawsuit’. In 1992, Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old lady, visited the McDonald’s drive-through in New Mexico. As the old car she was parked in had no cup holders, Liebeck placed the cup between her knees to add cream and sugar to her coffee. Unfortunately, the hot cup of coffee spilled all over her lap. The 180-190°F coffee caused extensive third-degree burns to Liebeck’s pelvic region, resulting in medical bills of over $10,000 with recurring medical treatment required for the future. In the beginning, Liebeck sought a settlement of $20,000 to cover her medical bills, to which McDonald’s responded with a measly offer of $800. Liebeck eventually turned to a personal injury attorney to prove the negligence committed by the fast-food giant. She finally settled out of court with McDonald’s after the jury awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages. As a result, McDonald’s now serves their coffee below 160°F, preventing their customers from suffering severe burns should they inadvertently spill their coffee.

Making a Personal Injury Claim

In many cases, people do not need to hire a lawyer to initiate a personal injury lawsuit. However, the facts can be difficult to present in court without the assistance of a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer. In order to have a successful personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff needs to prove that the party they are taking to court had a duty of care, that the party breached their duty of care, and that the breach directly caused personal harm, which lead to the suffering of damages. For example, a customer slips and falls on wet stairs at a yoga studio, leading to a broken arm. The customer has to first prove that the yoga studio had a duty of care to the people who visit its premises. Then, they would have to prove that the yoga studio breached its duty of care, such as not cleaning up the spill on the stairs and not placing warning signs within a reasonable proximity. Third, the customer would have to prove that the lack of action from the yoga studio was directly responsible for their injuries and damages, which could include pain and suffering from the broken arm, medical bills, and loss of income at work.

As defendants and insurance companies strive to pay out the lowest possible settlements by default, it is sensible for those pursuing personal injury cases to be represented by a qualified and experienced attorney. This is particularly true if the facts of the case are open to dispute. Opposing attorneys can make it challenging for you to prove the burden of blame, while also arguing against paying out future damages. Americans have every right to pursue compensation against negligence. Personal injury lawyers can help with that.