One thing I love about this line of work is the variety. There are many different kinds of injury lawsuits. They range from auto accidents to building code violations to professional malpractice. Each client is different. Witnesses to a case are varied in both their knowledge and ability to communicate. There’s always something different and interesting going on in our cases.
Regardless of all the differences, every case has the same basic framework or “anatomy.” It’s always helpful to think in terms of this anatomy during the life of a case to guide us. I generally tell people that there are three parts to a case: liability, damages and causation.
Liability is, simply put, “whose fault is it?” Liability can be a coin with two sides. The first side to the liability coin is what the defendant did wrong. The flip side to liability is comparative fault of the injured person. For example, we all know that a person is not supposed to run into the car in front of him. But, did the person driving the car in front stop suddenly without warning because she was mad at the following driver for tail-gaiting? You get the picture.
Damages are, simply put, the bad things that happened because of the accident. Damages are things like: lost wages, inability to work, medical expenses, and the intangible things in life that a person has had to live with – pain – and give up or change because of the injuries. Damages can also be the death of a husband, wife or child.
Causation is the question of whether the damages are because of the accident or because of some other reason. For example, a person falls off a staircase because of a rotted stair and gets back surgery two years later. The person had some back problems before this accident. Did she need back surgery because of the accident, or was she going to need the surgery anyway?
As you can see, there are a lot of variables to all these individual parts of a lawsuit. This is why it’s hard to predict what will happen when a person comes to see us the first time. Really, until we gather all the evidence we can, wait to see how well our clients will do years after an accident and see what arguments the other side is going to make, we can’t really say. Even then, unexpectedly good things or bad turns can dramatically impact a case. But, for all this variety, there are things we know for certain. And one of those things is the basic anatomy of a lawsuit.