Special Types of Personal Injury Cases

An overview of special rules in cases involving workplace injuries, claims against the government, and more.

In most instances when you suffer an injury, the law allows you to recover damages from the person who caused that injury, by filing a lawsuit in civil court. For example, if you get into a car accident, the negligent driver can be sued. If your doctor is careless and you suffer harm as a result, your doctor can be brought to court for medical malpractice. The body of law that governs financial liability for these injuries (and many others) is called personal injury law or "tort" law. However, there are a few special circumstances in which traditional personal injury principles (and procedures) do not apply.

When Can't You Sue for an Injury?

There are a few specific cases in which you may not sue for an injury:

  • when you suffer non-serious car accident injuries in a no fault state
  • when you suffer an injury at work
  • when a government entity or employee is responsible for causing your injury

No Fault States and Car Accidents

There are about a dozen “no-fault” states that limit an injured person’s options after a car accident.

While the rules differ from state to state, in general, each of the no-fault states requires you to collect injury damages from your own insurer under a special kind of coverage called Personal Injury Protection, or PIP.

Under the rules in most no fault states, regardless of who was to blame for the car accident, you may collect damages for:

  • actual lost wages (in some states, you can collect 100 percent but in others you receive only a percentage)
  • the actual cost of the medical bills necessary to treat your car accident injuries

You are also limited by your policy limits and can collect payments only up to those limits.

There are no states that are "pure no-fault," though. In all no fault states, there are exceptions to the rules that will allow you to step outside the no-fault system and sue the at-fault driver, which means you can then collect additional damages for things like pain and suffering.

The basic rule is that you can step outside of no-fault when your injuries are "serious" or when your medical treatment has surpassed a threshold dollar figure. The specifics vary from state to state. Learn more about No Fault Rules.

Workers’ Compensation

Another situation in which you may not file a standard personal injury claim is when you are injured at work. In all states, the exclusive remedy for most work-related injuries is the workers’ compensation system.

Under workers compensation rules, most employers have to buy insurance for all covered employees. When a worker is injured as a direct result of doing his or her job (which doesn't necessarily mean injured at the job site), then the worker can collect workers’ compensation benefits. The employee is not required to show any negligence on the part of the employer in order to collect benefits. Because of this, workers compensation is referred to as a "strict liability" system.

Once a worker has had a claim approved by the workers compensation insurer, he or she will have medical bills paid. Additional benefits may also be available, as set by the laws of the state’s system. For example, if a worker becomes partially or totally disabled, either temporarily or permanently, he or she will receive disability payments.

Governmental Immunity and Torts

You should also be aware that there are limitations on your ability to sue the government over an injury.

Governmental immunity exists to protect the government and officials from possible civil liability that arises as a result of their work. For example, a police officer who arrests someone is usually protected from a false imprisonment suit by governmental immunity, even if it later turns out the arrest was unwarranted.

This is not to say that you have no legal remedy if the government or one of its employees caused your injury. A set of laws allows for injury claims to be submitted against the government at all levels (federal, state, and city or county), and for a lawsuit to be permitted depending upon the outcome of that initial claim. But you’ll need to follow a strict set of rules for getting your injury claim filed.

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