The Two Issues That Determine a Personal Injury Case

When someone else causes you injury, you can make a claim for financial compensation. If that person is legally at fault (i.e. liable) for your injuries, then he or she will have to pay you what you’re owed (i.e. damages).

These two issues — liability and damages — are at the heart of personal injury litigation, which is the process by which accident victims get the monetary justice they’re owed.

The most common types of personal injury claims are automobile and road traffic accidents, on-the-job injuries, tripping accidents (i.e. slip and fall), assault claims, accidents in the home, property-related injuries (i.e. premises liability), and product defects (i.e. products liability).

The term personal injury also incorporates medical and dental errors, which lead to numerous medical negligence claims every year.

Some personal injury cases end up in court, but many are resolved via private settlements. Either way, an experienced Washington personal injury law firm can help guide you through the process and fight for every penny you’re owed.


In personal injury law, the term liability refers to one party’s legal obligation to pay for the other party’s damages (for more on damages, see below).  

Liability is the first major issue you will have to address in your personal injury case. To prove that the other side is liable for your injuries, you will have two prove four things:

  • The defendant owed you a duty of care
  • The defendant breached that duty of care
  • You suffered injuries
  • The defendant’s breach caused those injuries

Duty of care refers to the defendant’s legal responsibility to behave reasonably. Doctors have a duty to care for their patients, for example. Similarly, drivers have a duty to follow the rules of the road and to operate their vehicles carefully so that they don’t subject others to the risk of harm. Employers have a duty to maintain a safe working environment for their employees. Property owners have a duty to keep their premises free from hazards…and the list goes on.

In most cases, the duty of care has already been well defined in the law. You will need to prove, then, that the defendant breached the duty and, in doing so, caused your injuries.

To prove that, you’ll need evidence. Photographs of bruises or lacerations can help to prove injuries, for example, as can doctor’s reports or expert testimony.

Likewise, eyewitness testimony or surveillance footage can be used to prove that the defendant’s action (or inaction) caused your injuries.

These are only a few examples of the evidence you might use to establish liability. The best way to determine the most relevant evidence for your case is to schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced Washington personal injury attorney.


The term damages refers to all of the losses and hardships you have experienced as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty.

Once you’ve established the defendant’s liability, the court will try to restore you to the same state you would have been in had the defendant never breached his or her duty. But it goes without saying that a court can’t undo what’s already done. There is no way to reverse a car crash, undo a medical error, or take away emotional pain and suffering.

One thing the court can do, though, is award money. For that reason, damages are usually expressed in a dollar amount. The court will try to determine the amount of money it will take to fully compensate you for your hardship.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of damages:

  • Compensatory damages — Economic losses + compensation for non-economic losses (e.g. emotional distress)
  • Punitive damages — An additional sum of money that the defendant must pay the plaintiff. Punitive damages do not reimburse the plaintiff for actual damages; rather, they are intended solely to punish the defendant.

Punitive damages are only awarded in extraordinary cases. Most personal injury claims will only involve compensatory damages. Still, the compensatory sum alone can be substantial.

As with liability, you will need to prove the financial value of your damages before you can collect. Evidence might include:

  • Expert testimony from doctors, accountants, or other relevant professionals
  • Medical bills (hospital visits, doctor’s appointments, surgeries, etc.)
  • Pharmacy receipts
  • Insurance policy statements
    • Estimates and appraisals for property damage
  • Information about the market value and/or replacement cost of damaged property
    • Paystubs or proof of income for establishing lost wages

Your personal injury lawyer can help you determine the appropriate types of evidence for your case.

Talk to Our Personal Injury Lawyers About Your Personal Injury Claim Today

Now that you understand the two issues that determine a personal injury case, it’s time to find out how they might apply in your situation. Our office can help with that.

We offer free case reviews for personal injury victims. Just pick up the phone or contact us online to set up a private consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys today. There is no obligation, no cost, and the conversation is completely confidential.

If we take your case, you won’t have to pay us a single penny upfront. At Hames, Anderson, Whitlow & O’Leary, P.S., we represent personal injury clients on a contingency fee basis. You only pay us if we get you money. There’s nothing to lose.

To get started, simply call us at (509) 586-7797 or fill out the contact form on the right side of this page. The sooner we can get started, the better. Strict legal time limits (i.e. statutes of limitation) apply to Washington personal injury claims, so please do not delay.