Labels are not particularly important in the law. Facts and what happened are far more important. If something bad happened to a person, and it is actionable in law, the true substance of the event is what governs the legal disposition of the case. With that background we start with the label “personal injury.”
By emphasis in his practice, Don Farber is referred to as a personal injury lawyer. The term “personal injury” has a broad meaning. Literally it simply means harm to the person.
Lay people associate “personal injury” with physical injury in events like car accidents. It is that, but personal injury also includes emotional distress and mental anguish. Basic violations of personal dignity can also constitute personal injury, including violations of privacy. Constitutional violations of civil rights, due process, and equal protection often have their own identification, but are often associated with personal injury.
“Wrongful Death” is another term that overlaps with personal injury. Wrongful death is not a common law cause of action, but rather a statutory creation in each state that allows the heirs to sue the wrongdoer for the negligence that caused the death of a loved one. Damages for wrongful death in most jurisdictions accrue to the designated heirs on the basis of their own losses, not because the decedent suffered “personal injury” before s/he died. In most states the designated heirs are entitled to sue in wrongful death for both economic and non-economic losses associated with the death of a loved one. In many states only the personal representative of the decedent’s estate may sue in wrongful death, the personal representative then acting for all the beneficiaries as defined by the statute of the state in question. In some states the personal representative may sue for the personal injuries experienced by the decedent before his or her death, a legal matter called “survival actions.”
Statutes of limitation (“SOL”) establish cutoff points beyond which potential plaintiffs are unable to recover if they sue. Statutes can limit causes of action to as short as several months to 2, 3, or 4 years. From the potential plaintiff’s point of view, s/he should not wait in contacting a lawyer based on a belief on the SOL allows a little more time. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible. By the same token, if you believe you may have a cause of action but also know the nominal SOL period has lapsed, contact the lawyer anyway. There are sometimes legal excuses that can trump an otherwise applicable SOL, such as fraud or inadvertent ignorance of an existing claim.
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