Understanding Personal Injury Claims and Civil Rights Lawsuits

February 23, 2022

Understanding the differences between personal injury claims and civil rights lawsuits and knowing how to navigate through each one can be stressful. This article will explain the each type of case, the differences between the two, and answer some common questions regarding personal injury and civil rights.

What is a personal injury claim?

Personal injury claims are based upon tort law (similar to criminal laws). A tort is a civil wrong that causes injury to someone else or their property, for which the law grants the victim a legal remedy. Civil torts are distinct from criminal offenses in that they are not punishable by incarceration or otherwise sanctioned by government action. Personal injury claims mostly focus on three categories of torts: intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability.

Intentional Tort - An intentional tort involves intentionally harming another person either physically or emotionally/psychologically. Such as assault, battery, false imprisonment, etc...

Negligence - There are three elements that must be proven to establish a claim of negligence: (1) duty; (2) breach of duty; and (3) damages.

  1. Duty - Legal relationship between the parties obligated to act with reasonable care in a particular situation. Basically, there must be a mandatory obligation placed on one or more parties to not engage in conduct that could cause harm to another party or their property. For example, doctors have a duty to exercise reasonable care while treating patients under their supervision.
  2. Breach of Duty - The second element is whether a person breached his legal duties by acting unreasonably and causing an injury to someone else's person or property. In other words, it must be shown that the defendant [injured] was at fault for the plaintiff [those injured] injuries and that they failed to meet some standard of care.
  3. Damages - There must be harm or injury. Civil torts are based on the principle that individuals have a right to be free from certain acts by other people, even if those acts are not intended to cause harm. Civil wrongs also include discrimination cases under anti-discrimination statutes. Civil rights lawsuits occur when this violation of rights occurs within the context of government action, including prosecution and incarceration in criminal law cases, but also actions taken by public officials acting "under color" of state law in ways that violate federal statutory or constitutional rights ("Bivens violations").

Strict Liability - In a personal injury claim, strict liability is when the court holds a defendant liable regardless of fault. Here, it doesn't matter if the company was guilty or innocent of any wrongdoing, they will be held responsible for the damage that their faulty product has caused.

What are civil rights lawsuits?

Civil Rights Lawsuits: Civil rights claims are brought under civil provisions outlined in various federal statutes but most notably Section 1983, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Civil rights claims are generally filed against police officers or other public officials who have used their authority to violate someone's constitutional or statutory rights. Civil rights lawsuits seek damages for violations of federal law in addition to compensatory and punitive damages in some cases. Civil rights claims may be raised in both state and federal court, depending on whether there is a basis for federal jurisdiction (civil rights cases often involve constitutional law issues).

Are there differences between a personal injury claim and a civil rights lawsuit?

Personal injury lawsuits are civil claims that involve the victim claiming to have been injured physically or emotionally by someone else. Civil cases can also include property damage (i.e., car accidents) and financial damages (i.e., fraud).

Civil Rights is a term used to describe the rights of people within society. Civil rights include issues like voting, racial discrimination, social injustice, and fair housing. Civil Rights lawsuits are lawsuits that seek to protect these civil rights either by court action or by legislation. Civil rights can be protected in two ways: 1) through litigation which seeks to ensure that all citizens have equal access to government services or 2) through legislation which prohibits certain actions based on race, age, gender etc.

One of the key differences between a personal injury claim and a civil rights lawsuit is that in a civil rights lawsuit you are usually suing an individual or business for damages due to violations of Civil Rights (or Civil Liberties). Personal Injury claims are filed when the person filing the case has suffered physical, emotional, spiritual or financial loss due to the negligence of someone else.

Common Civil Rights cases include:

  • Discrimination cases in hiring practices or in schools
  • Police brutality
  • Civil rights actions about prisoners' treatment
  • LGBTQ discrimination

Some examples of Personal Injury cases include:

  • Car accidents
  • Driving while distracted
  • Wrongful death
  • Product liability

Where can each case be heard?

Civil rights cases can be tried either in Civil Court or Criminal Court, whereas personal injury lawsuits are heard in Civil Court. Civil Rights cases can also be filed with an administrative agency, such as the FBI, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, on a state level and at the federal level.

Personal injury claims must be filed in Civil Court, if someone was charged with a criminal offense there will probably be a separate criminal case in which you will need to file your personal injury case against the defendant in Criminal Court.

What are the limitations for each type of case?

There are no caps or limits on damages for Civil Rights violations, but there are statutes of limitations associated with personal injury claims . A statute of limitations requires you to file your lawsuit within a certain time frame after your injury occurred. If you do not file within this time frame then you lose all rights to sue for any type of compensation. Statute of Limitations can be confusing but there are lawyers who specialize in this very thing.

First, you should know that there are two separate statutes of limitation for civil rights claims: (1) an injury-based statute and (2) a time-of-discrimination rule.

Injury-Based Civil Rights Statute

If your case alleges physical injury after an unreasonable and unlawful use of force by a police officer during an investigation or arrest, then your claim would be an injury-based civil rights claim.

Time-of-Discrimination Civil Rights Statute

This rule applies if your civil rights claim is based on harassment or some other form of discrimination, such as an unlawful eviction from a public housing project. In Memphis, Tennessee a civil rights claim must be filed within two years after the date on which the injury was sustained or in the case of an unwarranted arrest or detention by a police officer, this is usually when you've been formally charged with a crime.

Personal injury claims also have a limited amount of time before the Statute of Limitations expires, depending on your state it may be 2 years, 3 years or 6 years from the date of the accident. In Memphis, Tennessee you must file within two years as well.

What are some other differences between Civil Rights cases and Personal Injury cases?

Civil Rights cases are fought against an individual not against companies or government agencies; therefore individuals cannot be held liable for punitive damages. Civil rights violations can result in compensatory and emotional distress damages; as well as Attorney fees and court costs. Civil Rights Defendants also might be required to take anger management classes and pay fines if convicted.

Personal Injury lawsuits are fought against an individual (or several defendants) or a company who was negligent in causing your harm. Compensatory Damages are the money awarded to pay for actual losses. Civil courts can also award Punitive damages that are designed to punish the Defendant and discourage future Civil Rights violations or Personal Injury cases. Finally, Civil suits can include an amount for emotional distress as well if you can prove it with medical records, witness testimony, etc.

What are the differences in the various types of damages that can be awarded?

Compensatory Damages are the money awarded to pay for your actual losses. This would include things like medical expenses, lost wages, cost of repairs for property damage, etc.

Punitive Damages are damages that are designed to punish the Defendant and discourage future Civil Rights violations or Personal Injury cases.

Emotional Distress Damages are any damages awarded for emotional distress caused by being injured or having a family member killed due to someone else's negligence. Emotional Distress is an intangible thing that can't be measured in financial terms so this aspect cannot be financially compensated. However emotional distress does factor into other types of damages that might be awarded so it is still included when figuring out how much you should receive from your case.

A lawyer or attorney should always be contacted when you are involved in a car accident or any other type of accident where another person may be at fault for causing your injuries. You should also seek out legal counsel if you believe you have been discriminated against in any way.

What are the differences in the standard of proof for each type of case?

Civil Rights violations don't have a high standard of proof, which means that you will not need to prove your claim "beyond a shadow of a doubt", you only need be able to prove it by the preponderance of evidence (which is considered more than 50% likely to be true). Civil rights claims can also be filed against government agencies or municipalities, whereas personal injury cases are rarely filed against governments.

Personal injury claims have a higher standard of proof, which means you will need to prove your claim "beyond a shadow of a doubt". To do that you will need witnesses, photographs, medical records and other evidence that proves the defendant's negligence caused your injury.

When should I hire a lawyer or seek out legal counsel?

A lawyer or attorney should always be contacted when you are involved in a car accident or any other type of accident where another person may be at fault for causing your injuries (bike accidents, slip and falls, work related accidents, etc.). You should also seek out legal counsel if you believe you have been discriminated against in any way. In both cases, the law firm will evaluate your potential case and advise you on how they believe you should proceed. In some instances a case may not even need to go to trial because it can be resolved, or settled outside of court.

What factors should I consider when hiring an attorney?

There are many factors to consider when hiring an attorney to represent you. First, it is important to find an attorney that has experience in your type of case (civil rights, personal injury). Personal Injury cases are different than Civil Rights cases so it's best to have an attorney who has previous experience working on the same types of cases as yours. Also, consider what resources this law firm has to work with you and pursue your case. Another factor to consider is location - you certainly want someone who can devote their time and attention to working on your case but if the law firm cannot handle many Civil Rights or Personal Injury cases then there might not be enough staff or hours in the day for them to provide full representation for your claim.

Some common questions to ask might look like the following:

  • What practice areas does the lawyer specialize in?
  • How much money have the lawyers won on similar cases in the past?
  • How many years have they been practicing? Do they have a long history of success or just a few cases under their belt?
  • What is the attorney's fee arrangement and what will it cost me up front if I retain this lawyer?

How long does a case typically take to complete?

It can take anywhere from a few months to several years for a Civil Rights case or Personal Injury case to complete. Since every case is different, it's hard to estimate how long yours will take. Keep in mind that you should be prepared for the possibility of the case going on longer than you expect if there are any issues like appeals involved. Civil rights cases and personal injury cases typically don't end quickly because they first need to go through an investigation and discovery phase where evidence against the defendant is gathered.

What are some notable civil rights cases?

Title II Civil Rights Cases

Title II Civil Rights Cases refer to the Civil Right Act of 1964. Title II Civil Rights Cases include discrimination claims made on the basis of race or color, which are prohibited by 42 U.S.C § 2000a et seq.

Several historic Title II Civil Rights Act Cases have been upheld by the United States Supreme Court, including:

  • Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States: After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the Supreme Court upheld the law's application to the private sector, on the grounds that Congress has the power to regulate commerce between the States. The landmark case Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United Statesestablished the law's constitutionality, but did not settle all the legal questions surrounding it.
  • Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc.: Piggie Park Enterprises was, in 1964, a drive-in BBQ chain with four restaurants, created and operated by Maurice Bessinger, the Baptist head of the National Association for the Preservation of White People.[3][4] He did not allow African-Americans to eat in his restaurants.[5] After Bessinger's refusal to allow Anne Newman,[6] an African-American minister's wife into his restaurant, a lawyer, Matthew J. Perry, filed a class action lawsuit against the chain.
  • United States v. Johnson: Defendants were indicted under the federal civil rights statute (18 USC 241) for a conspiracy to injure and intimidate three African Americans in the exercise of their right to patronize a restaurant under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Defendants were outsiders not connected with the restaurant. The District Court granted a motion to dismiss the indictment on the ground that 207(b) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes the provision for relief by injunction the exclusive remedy under the Act. (269 F Supp 706)

SOURCE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Rights_Act_of_1964#Title_II—public_accommodations

Title VII Civil Right Act Case

In addition to making Title II claims under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees may also bring claims under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act when their employment has been disrupted due to discrimination on the basis of race or other protected status including sex, which is prohibited under 42 U.S.C § 2000e-2(a) et seq., as well as claims based on national origin, color, religion or disability (disability), which are included under 42 U.S.C § 2000e-2(m)(1).

Several historic Title VII Civil Rights Act Cases are:

  • Altitude Express v. Zarda: Don Zarda was fired after revealing his sexual orientation to a customer at the skydiving business where he worked. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favor of Zarda, concluding that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of workplace sex discrimination that is prohibited under Title VII. Sadly, Don Zarda passed away prior to the Court’s ruling in his favor, but his surviving partner and sister continued the lawsuit on his behalf.
  • Bostock v. Clayton County, GA: Gerald Bostock was fired from his job as a child welfare services coordinator for Clayton County, Georgia, when his employer learned that he is gay. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of Bostock’s Title VII case, which relied on old caselaw.
  • G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC and Aimee Stephens: Aimee Stephens was a funeral director in Michigan. When she informed her employer that she is transgender and would come to work as a woman, consistent with her gender identity, the funeral home said that would be unacceptable and fired her. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the funeral home’s actions in firing her constituted sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. Sadly, Aimee Stephens passed away just a month prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling in her favor.

SOURCE: https://www.familyequality.org/resources/lgbtq-title-vii-employment-discrimination-cases-supreme-court/

What are some notable personal injury cases?

  • Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants: Known as the "McDonald's coffee case" and the "hot coffee lawsuit", this case was a highly publicized 1994 product liability lawsuit in the United States against McDonald's. Plaintiff Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman, suffered third-degree burns in her pelvic region when she accidentally spilled hot coffee in her lap after purchasing it from a McDonald's restaurant. Liebeck was hospitalized for eight days while undergoing skin grafting, followed by two years of medical treatment. The Liebeck case became a flashpoint in the debate in the United States over tort reform. A New Mexico civil jury awarded $2.86 million to Liebeck, but the judge reduced it to $640,000. Liebeck's attorneys argued that, at 180–190 °F (82–88 °C), McDonald's coffee was defective, claiming it was too hot and more likely to cause serious injury than coffee served at any other establishment. McDonald's had refused several prior opportunities to settle for less than what the jury ultimately awarded. The jury damages included $160,000 to cover medical expenses and compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages. The trial judge reduced the final verdict to $640,000, and the parties settled for a confidential amount before an appeal was decided.

SOURCE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebeck_v._McDonald%27s_Restaurants

  • Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company: A 1972 Pinto rear-end impact and fire in Orange County, California, resulted in the death of the driver Lily Gray and severe injury to passenger Richard Grimshaw. Gray's family and Grimshaw filed separate suits against Ford, but the actions were consolidated for trial. The jury awarded $127.8 million in damages; $125 million in punitive damages, and $2,841,000 in compensatory damages to Grimshaw and $665,000 in compensatory damages to the Gray family. The jury award was the largest ever in US product liability and personal injury cases. The jury award was the largest against an automaker until a $150 million verdict in a 1996 case, Hardy vs. General Motors. The judge reduced the jury's punitive damages award to $3.5 million, which he later said was "still larger than any other punitive damage award in the state by a factor of about five."

SOURCE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grimshaw_v._Ford_Motor_Co.

Navigating the legal waters of a personal injury claim or civil rights lawsuit can seem daunting – that's where we come in. With decades of proven, winning experience and over $35 Billion obtained in Verdicts, Settlements and Judgments, The Cochran Firm of the Mid-South is here to help you. We are here to fight alongside you and carry out Mr. Johnnie Cochran's legacy of providing exceptional representation to victims of all types of injustice. That's the Cochran way! If you are the victim of an injury or feel that you have been discriminated against, contact our team of attorneys and we can help you determine the best course of action for you. Our team of legal experts will meet with you for a free case evaluation to discuss the facts of your case and determine if filing a lawsuit is right for your case. If your case proceeds, then you can expect our full support and vigorous management to obtain the best outcome possible. Our consultations are without obligation so there’s no risk in reaching out today! Call The Cochran Firm of the Mid-South at (901) 523-1222 today.

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