The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
How Do Minnesota Personal Injury Claims Work?
March 17, 2018
Each year, car crashes injure or kill millions of Americans. Premises liability matters, such as slip-and-fall injuries, swimming pool drownings, and dog bites, kill or injure thousands of people as well. All these victims are entitled to compensation for their damages. All these victims should consider partnering with a Minnesota Personal Injury Attorney in order to try and secure the compensation they deserve.
In court, victim/plaintiffs typically establish legal responsibility, or liability, by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Assume that there are two equally-full glasses of water side by side on a table. If someone adds a drop of water to the glass on the left, it contains more liquid than the glass on the right. That’s a good picture of a preponderance of the evidence.
Elements of a Negligence Case
Most car crash claims in Minnesota involve negligence, which is essentially a lack of ordinary care. There are five elements in a negligence case:
Duty: Noncommercial drivers have a duty of reasonable care. They must obey the rules of the road and drive defensively at all times. In some cases, commercial operators, such as Uber drivers and truck drivers, are common carriers. These individuals have a higher duty of care.
Breach: The jury or factfinder decides if the tortfeasor (negligent actor) violated the duty of care. For example, rolling down the car window is technically distracted driving, because motorists take their hand off the wheel and their mind off driving. But most Minnesotans would not consider rolling down a car window to be a breach of duty.
Cause: MN Personal Injury Lawyers refer often refer to this element as but-for causation. In other words, the accident would not have occurred “but for” the tortfeasor’s misconduct.
Proximate Cause: This element is also called substantial cause and foreseeability. It is foreseeable for a car wreck to injure a pedestrian on the sidewalk, but not foreseeable for a doctor to amputate the wrong leg during surgery. The doctor is negligent, but the original tortfeasor is not legally responsible for the physician’s conduct.
Damages: The victim must suffer a physical injury. Near misses, although traumatic, are not actionable in court.
All Minnesota victims are entitled to damages for their economic losses, such as medical bills and property damage. Victims who sustain serious injuries, as the law defines that term, are entitled to additional compensation for their loss of enjoyment in life, pain and suffering, loss of consortium (companionship), emotional distress, and other noneconomic damages.
Premises liability cases, such as dog bites, work a little differently. Victim/plaintiffs in these cases must usually establish that the tortfeasor knew about the dangerous property situation.
Negligence per se works a little differently as well. Tortfeasors are responsible for damages as a matter of law if:
They violate a safety statute, like DUI, and
Said violation substantially caused the damages.
In some cases, negligence per se is only a presumption, and not absolute proof, of liability.
An alarming number of drivers in Minnesota are either uninsured or underinsured. In catastrophic injury cases, if the tortfeasor has limited or no insurance, victims sometimes have a difficult time obtaining fair compensation for their injuries. Vicarious liability gives these victims an added source of recovery. Some common theories include:
Respondeat Superior: “Let the master answer” is the most common employer liability doctrine in Minnesota. It applies if the tortfeasor was an employee who was acting within the scope of employment at the time of the car crash. Both these elements are very broadly defined. Some other employer liability theories include negligent supervision and negligent hiring.
Dram Shop: Commercial alcohol providers are legally responsible for the injuries their intoxicated patrons cause if they illegally sold alcohol to that tortfeasor. A sale is illegal if the customer was under 21 or obviously intoxicated at the time.
Negligent Entrustment: Owners who allow incompetent drivers to use their vehicles are jointly responsible for damages in some cases. Commercial negligent entrustment cases, perhaps with a U-Haul truck or Enterprise rented car, are subject to the Graves Amendment.
Minnesota is a modified joint and several liability state. Therefore, in most cases, the judge apportions damages among multiple responsible parties based on their percentage of fault.
The Legal Minnesota Personal Injury Process
Almost all negligence cases begin with a demand letter. After ascertaining the case’s settlement value, a Minnesota Personal Injury Attorney sends a letter demanding an amount of money to the insurance company. Settlement value depends on a variety of factors, including the strength of the plaintiff’s evidence, the likely composition of the Buffalo jury, and any insurance company defenses.
If the two sides cannot reach a settlement agreement at this point, the victim/plaintiff usually files a legal claim for damages. In most cases, such a claim must be filed within two years of the Minnesota car crash or other negligent episode.
After the parties conduct discovery and the judge decides pretrial motions, the case usually goes to mediation. There, a neutral third party tries to facilitate a settlement between the victim and insurance company. If mediation fails and there is no such settlement, the case proceeds to a trial before a judge or a jury.
CALL TODAY TO SPEAK WITH A MINNESOTA PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER AT CARLSON & JONES