Before you graduate from law school, it is important to know what kind of law you want to practice, but this process can be difficult. There are numerous kinds of law, countless claims, and an endless array of clientele. You also only get three years in law school to figure out what type of law you may excel at in the future. This is further complicated when you have to meet certain requirements to graduate and you take certain classes in preparation for the bar. So what is a law student supposed to do? The best way to make a decision is to be informed and gain experience in those fields. I had an interest in personal injury law so I decided to pursue opportunities to get my feet wet while gaining some experience and knowledge in that field. Here is a quick look at personal injury law based on my experiences in this type of law.
What is Personal Injury Law
Personal injury law sounds pretty straight-forward: law that covers people’s injuries. Basically, think of your first-year torts class but with more complicated cases. However, personal injury claims are solely based on injuries to the individual’s body, not their property. This confusion can sometimes come up in car accidents when someone has a medical benefit claim but wants to sue for collision coverage. Personal injury law focuses on tort and negligence claims whereas a collision claim would be more focused on breach of contract. However, just because torts is the main focus of personal injury law, does not mean that other areas of law do not come up. Contract interpretation, property issues, and even other specific types of law (like family law) can also arise in these claims.
Common Misconceptions About Personal Injury Law
Unfortunately, there is a general misconception that personal injury lawyers spend their time in ERs. This is where the term “ambulance-chasing attorneys” arises. While it is true that many clients of the personal injury attorney visit the emergency room, you will rarely find a lawyer hanging out there. In reality, personal injury lawyers help victims get relief from their injuries. Typically this means making the insurance company honor their obligations and pay for the victim’s expenses. Other times, it involves holding people accountable for their actions.
Automobile Accidents/Michigan No-Fault Law
Since I am from Michigan, I am most familiar with the no-fault scheme in well, Michigan, however many other states have no-fault laws. Even if a state does not have a no-fault structure, the basic claims are the same – there are just certain details that are different (like no-fault’s compulsory insurance and economic claims regardless of fault). In Michigan, auto accidents are huge for personal injury lawyers. When people are injured in a car accident, they can typically sue for economic claims and non-economic claims. Economic claims can be identified as a monetary amount and typically cover the expenses of the injured person. Economic claims usually include (but are not limited to) medical benefits, replacement (household) services, attendant care (personal care), transportation, prescriptions, and wage loss. Ordinarily, these benefits are covered by and explained in an auto insurance policy. In Michigan, these benefits are to be paid regardless of fault. Non-economic claims usually involve things like pain and suffering or excess economic loss. In order to recover these benefits, a person has to have a serious injury and not be at fault for the accident. These claims are based on negligence on the part of the other driver, or the “at-fault” individual.
The other side of personal injury law comes from negligence claims. These types of claims can cover a wide variety of situations. Besides auto accident-related negligence, these suits largely involve “slip and fall” incidents. This is where you have some sort of property, the client fell or had an accident, the client was injured, and it was not the client’s fault (or not completely). However, negligence can also cover medical negligence and malpractice, negligent supervision, negligent entrustment and other claims for general negligence against another individual.
Assault & Battery
I have seen some assault and battery cases in personal injury law as well. Similar to what you may remember in torts, these are intentional wrongs against an individual in which someone hurt someone else. The injured person now wants to hold them accountable, possibly to pay for their medical expenses.
This quick look was based off of my experience in personal injury law, however, it does not limit that area of law solely to what I’ve covered. Law is constantly changing and varies from location to location. However, I hope this insight has given you a taste of what personal injury is and help you consider what type of law you want to practice, or even just what classes to take next semester.
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