We've all heard the terms "Personal Injury", "Personal Injury Lawyer" and "Personal Injury Claim", but what do those terms really mean?
Technically, a "personal injury" is any injury to a person. Of course, not all injuries result in claims. When we refer to "personal injury claims" what we are really referring to is negligence claims. Negligence is simply the failure to exercise reasonable care. When a person is careless, and that carelessness results in an injury to someone else, a personal injury claim results.
The question of what constitutes "reasonable care" is complicated, and is usually not clearly spelled out by the law. Even where there are specific rules, such as traffic laws, or construction safety codes, violation of these rules in Washington may only be considered by a jury as "evidence of negligence". Ultimately, it is up to the judge or jury to determine whether a defendant exercised "reasonable care".
There is a wide range of personal injury claims, from medical malpractice (failure to exercise the minimum care that would be used by a reasonably careful doctor under the same or similar circumstances), to landowner liability (failure to correct or warn of an unreasonably dangerous condition on property) to auto accidents (failure to use reasonable care when driving). There are countless other kinds of personal injury claims, such as dog bites, slip and falls, trip and falls, nursing home neglect, and many more.
Making things even more confusing, different rules apply to different defendants. For example, the "standard of care" for a bus driver may be higher than that applied to a person driving her own private car, and what is reasonable for an adult is different than what is reasonable for a child.
The common thread connecting all of these circumstances is that somebody, some person or corporation, failed to use reasonable care (a defendant), and that as a result of that failure some person suffered an injury (a plaintiff).
Not all injuries result from negligence, and not all negligence causes injuries. Even when an injury is caused by someone's negligence, circumstances may prevent that injury from ever becoming a personal injury claim. There are time limits for bringing a claim and certain defendants are exempt from certain types of claims. In other circumstances your claim may simply be too small to justify the expense and effort necessary to pursue it, or it may be complicated by your medical history or by other factors.
If you have been injured, and you believe your injury was caused by another person's carelessness, the best way to know for sure whether you have a claim worth pursuing is to consult with an attorney experienced in handling personal injury claims.