The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
Why Experience Matters In Your MN Personal Injury Case
April 29, 2018
Inexperienced attorneys often don’t know the different procedures in different courtrooms. Many of the counties in Minnesota have their own procedural rules, and many of these rules are unwritten. As a result, an inexperienced attorney may spend more energy focusing on what to do as opposed to the merits of your case.
Perhaps more importantly, an inexperienced attorney may be unfamiliar with the complexities and nuances of Minnesota injury compensation law. The lawyer who wrote your will may be an outstanding estate and probate attorney but know little about other areas of law. So, you need someone with experience in personal injury matters. This expertise makes a difference in a number of ways.
Negligence in a MN Personal Injury Case
Like most other parts of American law, the doctrine of negligence came from Great Britain. Before the Industrial Revolution of the early 1900s, there was no need for a negligence law. But large factories and automobiles changed society, and the law needed to change as well.
Factories were an issue in 1932’s Donoghue v. Stevenson. Ms. Donoghue was having ice cream and ginger beer in a café one afternoon. To her horror, there was a dead and partially decomposed snail in the bottom of the beer bottle. She filed a claim against Mr. Stevenson, the local beer bottler. Her claim alleged that he had a duty “to provide a system of working his business that was safe, and would not allow snails to get into his ginger beer bottles (including the said bottle).”
That claim seems obvious to us. But a hundred years ago, Donoghue was a first-of-its-kind case. To deal with this claim, Lord Akin applied the “neighbour principle,” which is a variation of the Golden Rule that some Minnesota schoolchildren once had to memorize.
You must not injure your neighbour; and. . .you must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who, then, in law, is my neighbour? The answer seems to be–persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.
This principle eventually came to American law as the duty of care. Duty is the first element in a negligence case. Most people have a duty of reasonable care. For example, drivers must be sober, pay attention to driving, and obey the rules of the road. Minnesota courts added four other elements to a negligence case, which are:
Breach: People breach the duty of care in Minnesota when their conduct falls below the acceptable standard. To stay with the car crash example, most people who drive while intoxicated or fatigued breach the duty of reasonable care, as do motorists who play with their phones while driving or speed excessively.
Cause: There must be a direct relationship between the tortfeasor’s (negligent actor’s) breach and the victim’s damages. Attorneys sometime call this element “but-for causation,” as in the accident would not have happened but for the tortfeasor’s negligence.
Proximate Cause: This phrase is basically Legalese for “substantial cause.” In a landmark case from New York, some railroad workers caused a man to drop a package of fireworks. The fireworks exploded, causing a large scale to topple onto the victim. A judge later held that the railroad was not liable for a particular passenger’s injury. The connection between the two was too remote.
Damages: The victim/plaintiff must suffer an actual injury due to the fall, car crash, or whatever. “Close calls” and “near misses” are extremely upsetting but not actionable in most cases. That being said, if the victim sustains a serious injury, the victim may receive compensation for intangible injuries, such as pain and suffering.
Minnesota law defines a serious injury as one that costs more than $4,000 in medical bills, requires more than 60 days of recuperation, or results in even a slight permanent injury.
Complicating matters even further, the negligence per se shortcut may be available in some Minnesota injury cases. In these situations, the victim need not establish the five elements of a negligence case. Instead, the victim/plaintiff need only show that:
The tortfeasor violated a safety law, such as DUI, and
That lapse proximately caused the victim’s injuries.
In both negligence and negligence per se cases, the victim must usually prove each element by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
Some Insurance Company Defenses
An experienced attorney not only prepares the victim’s case. An experienced attorney also knows how to handle some common insurance company defenses. Insurance company lawyers often try to use these legal loopholes to reduce or deny compensation to the victim. Some common defenses include:
Contributory Negligence: This theory shifts blame onto the victim. For example, in a car crash, the insurance company may admit that the tortfeasor was drunk but claim that the victim’s illegal lane change really caused the accident.
Assumption of the Risk: This defense is common in swimming pool drowning and dog bite cases. The property owner tries to use a “No Lifeguard On Duty” or “Beware Of Dog” sign to argue that the victim should have known about, and should have avoided, the dangerous situation.
Other insurance company defenses include the sudden emergency defense and the last clear chance doctrine.
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