When an auto accident results in an injury and is taken to court, one of the most important issues a judge must decide is causation. If a plaintiff can show that an injury was directly caused by the accident, then the judge will determine the amount of damages to be awarded. However, the determination of causation can be difficult. This is especially true when figuring out whom exactly caused the accident. For example, if a car on the interstate swerves into a lane and slams into another vehicle it may appear that the driver of that car directly caused the accident. If this were true, then the driver would be liable for any injury damages. Yet, there are several factors that must be considered. Consider, was any part of the car defective? Was there a problem with the road that caused the car to swerve? The various answers to these questions can change what actually caused the accident and the injury, thereby shifting liability to differing parties.
When making a personal injury claim, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove both that the defendant caused the accident and that the injuries resulted from that accident. The plaintiff need only prove these elements by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it is more likely than not that the defendant caused the accident and that the injuries resulted from that accident. If causation is proved, then the judge will determine the damages that are to be awarded.
Damages awards may be found in several different areas. The most obvious is damages via costs accrued through medical treatment. Costs for medical transportation, doctor visits, prescriptions, and other hospital services are likely to be awarded as damages once causation has been proven. In addition to medical costs, a plaintiff may make claims for pain and suffering. These awards are highly discretionary, and are dependant upon the plaintiff’s ability to show that he has suffered disfigurement, impairment of ability to work, anxiety attributable to the injury, and mental distress. Pain and suffering damages cover a broad area, but to succeed on such claims it is imperative that the pain and suffering is proximately related to the accident and/or injury. A plaintiff may claim other damages such as loss of wages, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium. However, all must be a result of the accident and injury that serves as the claim’s foundation.
In Mouton v. Old Republic Insurance Co., the plaintiff sued an electrical company, its insurer, and its driver when the driver backed his truck into the plaintiff’s car. At trial, Mouton filed claims against the electrical company, its insurer, and the driver, seeking damages to recoup his medical expenses and to receive compensation for his pain and suffering and his loss of enjoyment of life. The trial judge denied Mouton’s claims because he did not believe that the injuries and the accident were causally related. On appeal, however, the judge looked to Mouton’s medical history and activities prior to the accident to determine if there was causation. Since Mouton did not have any prior medical conditions that could have caused his injuries, the appellate judge found that the injuries more likely than not resulted from the accident. Therefore, the plaintiff’s burden of proof was satisfied.
The appellate judge then turned to damages. First, the medical bills were examined to see if they pertained to the accident injuries, and if so, whether or not the costs were reasonable. In Mouton’s case, the judge found the medical costs to be reasonable and thus worthy of award. Mouton’s claims for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life, on the other hand, were not supported by any evidence that such claims were causally related to the accident. These claims were therefore dismissed. General damages of $2,500 were awarded, which accounted for the minimal inconvenience Mouton experienced from his injury. This finding provides an example of the importance of the causal link between an accident and the injuries from which one is seeking damages.
Auto accident cases may seem clear cut at first glance, but they are often more complex than one presumes. Several different factors related to causation and damages must be examined closely to determine if a suit should be brought, and if so, against whom, and precisely what claims should be filed. Such a process is best left to an experienced attorney.
If you have been injured in an accident, please contact the Berniard Law Firm.