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The building blocks of a personal injury case

If you suffered an injury because of someone else's negligence, filing a lawsuit may be a good option when you need to seek compensation for your damages. Understanding how such a case works can help you as you work with your attorney to assess your situation and plan the way forward.

Whether a car hit you, you slipped on damaged flooring at the store, you suffered because of a wrong diagnosis or you sustained another type of accident, your case will have several basic elements. Specific types of personal injury cases may have additional components.

Negligence and damages

As the plaintiff, you will need to prove two essential matters: that the defendant acted negligently and that you suffered compensable damages as a result.

Define negligence

For a personal injury case, negligence means failing to comply with the established standard of care for the activity in question. For a driver, this generally means following traffic rules, remaining alert and acting in a reasonable way to prioritize safety. For a doctor, this may mean diagnosing and treating based on accepted standards in the field. A store owner may have the obligation to maintain reasonably safe premises.

If you were also negligent

Sometimes, plaintiffs also act negligently. However, you can still recover in Pennsylvania as long as you were less negligent than the defendant. If the jury determines negligence on your part, it will subtract a corresponding percentage from your award.

Types of damage

You will also need to show the negligent act caused you to suffer damages that entitle you to compensation. The law generally allows personal injury plaintiffs to recover economic damages as well as pain and suffering damages.


Economic damages address financial losses stemming from the accident. Some examples include medical costs, lost wages, diminished earning capacity and other expenses you incur in dealing with harm from the accident.


Pain and suffering damages aim to compensate plaintiffs for non-financial harm, such as physical pain or emotional anguish.


In some rare cases, plaintiffs may ask for punitive damages. This requires proving the defendant acted in a highly malicious or reckless way, which goes far beyond the normal negligence threshold. 

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