Many people think that personal injury and bodily injury are synonymous terms, but they actually mean different things. The legal definition of personal injury is one that affects “a person’s body, emotions, or reputation, as contradistinguished from injury to property rights.”
The legal definition of bodily injury, on the other hand, is “(A) a cut, abrasion, bruise, burn, or disfigurement; (B) physical pain; (C) illness; (D) impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty; or (E) any other injury to the body, no matter how temporary.”
In other words, bodily injury can be, and often is, a subset of personal injury.
Types of Personal Injury
Personal injury is a very broad area of civil law that includes not only bodily injury, but also such things as the following:
- Defamation, slander and libel
- Invasion of privacy
- Malicious prosecution
- False imprisonment, detention or arrest
- Copyright infringement
Bodily injury is likewise a very broad area of law that can take place in either a civil or criminal setting, depending on the circumstances surrounding the injury.
Civil Bodily Injury
In a civil setting, bodily injuries usually result from accidents caused by someone’s negligence. These are the types of events that likely come to your mind when you think of personal injuries. Examples include the following:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Slips, trips, falls and other premises liability accidents
- Workplace accidents
- Sports accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Birth injuries
- Nursing home neglect or abuse
- Product liability accidents
- Wrongful death
Criminal Bodily Injury
When a bodily injury results from someone committing a deliberate wrongful act, as opposed to him or her acting in a negligent manner, he or she may face criminal prosecution as well as civil liability.
These types of wrongs are called torts, defined in the civil context as “an act or omission that gives rise to injury or harm to another and amounts to a civil wrong for which courts impose liability.”
Common examples of the types of torts for which perpetrators can face both criminal and civil sanctions include such acts as the following:
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
In such situations, if a criminal court finds the defendant guilty, the judge could well impose penalties such as a prison sentence, fines, victim restitution, etc. In contrast, if a civil court finds the defendant responsible for the plaintiff’s bodily injuries, the jury will award him or her an amount in monetary damages that must be paid by the defendant.
One very important thing for you to keep in mind is that you can still prevail in your civil lawsuit even if the criminal court acquits the defendant.
Toxic torts, i.e., “injuries to plaintiffs caused by toxic substances,” make up another major subclass of civil bodily injuries. When numerous people suffer the same type of illness or injuries after using the same product, they often join together in a class action. This allows courts to hear only one or a few cases instead of hundreds, possibly thousands, of individual claims.
Examples of class actions include lawsuits against the following types of defendants:
- Tobacco companies
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Medical equipment or supply companies
- Companies whose employees are exposed to asbestos
- Automobile manufacturers
- Insecticide companies
Types of Bodily Injuries
Common types of bodily injury resulting from an accident include the following:
- Broken bones
- Cuts and lacerations
- Strains, sprains and other types of soft tissue injuries
More serious injuries, often called catastrophic injuries, include the following:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Severe burns
- Spinal cord injuries
- Amputation injuries
- Any injury that leaves disfiguring scars
In other words, these are the injuries that can disable you and from which you may never completely recover.
When you file a personal injury lawsuit against the person whose negligence caused your accident, and therefore your bodily injuries, you and your lawyer must prove that the defendant’s actions or failure to act were indeed negligent. Different states have different requirements for proving negligence, that is, its elements, but, in general, they include the following:
- That the defendant owed you a duty of care
- That he or she breached this duty
- That as a result of this breach, you suffered injuries
- That the defendant’s breach of duty was the proximate cause of your injuries
- That your injuries caused you to sustain compensable damages for which the defendant should compensate you
Since civil courts have the authority to only punish guilty defendants financially, not impose prison sentences on them, you ask for various types of damages in your personal injury lawsuit petition. Again, different states have different names for the types of damages you can recover if you win your lawsuit, but they amount to the following:
Economic damages are compensatory in nature and consist of those that involve the actual monetary depletion your injuries caused. They are easy to quantify in terms of the dollars you have already spent or lost or will reasonably expect to spend or lose in the future. They have two categories: medical expenses and loss of income.
The medical expenses that you have already incurred are quite straightforward and include such things as the following:
- Ambulance transport
- Emergency room assessment
- Diagnostic tests
- Hospital expenses, such as surgery
- Prescription medications
Depending on the seriousness of your injuries, your future medical expenses may include some or all of the following:
- Physical therapy
- Continuing doctor and other appointments
- Necessary medical equipment, such as a wheelchair, prosthesis, etc.
- Required in-home care
Loss of Income
Your loss of income includes not only the amount of salary or wages you’ve already lost from missing work due to your injuries, but also a reasonable estimate of the amount you likely will lose in the future. If you sustained disabling injuries that make it impossible for you to perform your existing job duties, it also includes a reasonable estimate of the lifetime differential between what you would have earned in your current job and what, if anything, you will earn if you obtain another type of employment.
Your noneconomic damages resulting from your injuries are harder to calculate because they represent more subjective types of losses, including the following:
- Physical, mental and emotional pain and suffering
- Resulting conditions, such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc.
- Embarrassment over disfiguring scars
- Loss of identity from having to wear a prosthesis or use a wheelchair or white cane to navigate the reality of your new world
- Loss of your ability to perform some of your normal daily activities or participate in the sports you once did
- Loss of your overall life enjoyment
If the jury finds that the defendant’s actions rose to the level of egregious, it could award you punitive damages on top of your economic and noneconomic damages. As their name implies, these types of damages are intended to financially punish the defendant rather than to compensate you per se.
Getting the Legal Help You Need When You’re Injured
Whenever you receive a bodily injury in Massachusetts, the deeply experienced and empathetic team of attorneys at Jason Stone Injury Lawyers is here to provide the legal help you need. Injury law is all we practice, and we’ve been successfully doing it for more than 20 years. One of the major things that makes this firm different from other personal injury law firms is the Stone Cold Guarantee®, 10 assurances to make your experience with us a positive one.