Fistfights can damage you physically and financially. Here’s how to build a strong claim for fight injuries and get fair compensation after getting punched or hit.
Unless you fight competitively, most of us will go through life without ever having to punch, kick, or elbow our way out of an argument. After all, we’re a civilized society.
Unfortunately, there are times when a physical altercation becomes inevitable. Of course, it’s always better to avoid a physical confrontation, but that isn’t always possible.
If you’re badly injured in a physical fight caused by someone else, you have a right to expect compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Here’s what you need to know about filing a strong injury claim or lawsuit for your fight-related damages.
Common Causes of Physical Fights
There are plenty of reasons people end up in fights, that include power issues, lack of sleep, lack of self-esteem, and poor conflict management skills.
Understanding the psychology of fighting is all well and fine until somebody punches you so hard you’ll have your jaw wired shut for the next two months.
One way to duck those punches is to avoid confrontations in common situations that lead to fighting. The problem is, as you’ll see, there are plenty of circumstances where you might not be able to anticipate and avoid a fight.
Bar Fights: There’s nothing like a mean drunk to ruin a pleasant evening. Bar fights can lead to everything from a black eye to disabling spinal cord injuries. You could be suddenly punched in the face by an unruly bar customer or caught between other fighting patrons and the bouncers.
Road Rage: Up to 1,500 people are hurt or killed each year by road rage incidents. Horn honking, cursing, and obscene gestures are bad enough.
Unfortunately there are many incidents of drivers being forced off the road by the aggressor and ending up in a fistfight during the evening rush hour. Or, being followed to their destination by an enraged driver who comes after them when exiting their vehicle.
Fights at Work: No matter what kind of job you have, there is always a risk of being assaulted at work. Unless you started the fight, your medical expenses and part of your lost wages should be covered by worker’s comp. In extreme cases, you may be eligible to also collect from your employer’s liability insurance carrier.
If you’re in a protected class of workers, such as police officers, firefighters, emergency medical providers, and hospital staff, in many states the person who punched, bit, or slapped you will be automatically facing felony assault charges.
Public and Private Schools: In a recent survey nearly one in four students admitted to being in a physical fight on school property one or more times in the last 12 months.
Considering how many school-age children end up in fights coming and going from school, at school events, and in the community, the numbers of children involved in physical fights are much higher.
In some circumstances, the aggressive child’s parents may be financially liable for the fight victim’s injuries.
Interpersonal Conflict: Reasons for personal grudges between groups and individuals are as varied as the people involved. Whether it’s a family feud that’s existed for generations or your dinner date’s former partner who shows up and decides to punch you in the mouth, the resulting fight can result in serious injuries.
Aggressive Strangers: Sometimes terrible fights break out when you least expect them, at community sporting events, department stores, and other public places you wouldn’t expect to encounter violence.
Your broken nose is no less painful and expensive if an enraged soccer mom delivered the punch than a drunk biker.
Understanding Injury Laws and Fight Claims
After a fight, you’re entitled to pursue your attacker for compensation for your damages, meaning your medical expenses, lost wages, ruined personal items, and an amount for your pain and suffering.
Before you see a penny from an insurance claim or a lawsuit, you’ll have to prove:
- The other person started the fight for no good reason
- The other person caused your injuries
- You did not contribute to your injuries
- You can verify your damages
It helps to understand some terms used by insurance companies and lawyers.
“Culpability” means fault or guilt. You must show the attacker, and no one else, was the person responsible for starting the fight. Your attacker must have struck you without legal cause. Legal cause can include self-defense, defense of an innocent third person, defense of property, consent, or your contributory negligence.
Example: Attacked without cause
Jeff was at a football game, cheering on his team, when Mike began to make derogatory remarks about Jeff’s team. Jeff ignored Mike. Mike’s derogatory remarks escalated, but Jeff continued to ignore them.
Finally, Mike reached out and punched Jeff. Within seconds, Mike and Jeff were fighting.
In this case, Mike was culpable. He was clearly the person who started the fight. Mike had no good reason to attack Jeff and Jeff didn’t contribute to his injuries.
“Direct and Proximate Cause” means the attacker’s actions are the only cause of your injuries. In other words, if not for the attack, you wouldn’t be hurt.
Using our previous example, when Mike struck Jeff, he broke Jeff’s nose. Mike’s punch to Jeff’s face was the direct and proximate cause of Jeff’s broken nose.
“Defenses” are the ways the other person will try to turn the tables and blame you for the fight. To succeed in a personal injury claim against your attacker, you’ll need to overcome their defenses.
To defend themselves, the attacker or their attorney may argue:
- Self-defense: You struck or intended to strike the attacker first.
- Defense of a third party: They hit you to protect someone else because you were assaulting another person, or there was a credible threat you were about to harm another person.
- Defense of property: They only struck you to prevent you from taking or destroying their property.
- Consent: You agreed to the fight. You knew or should have known as a result of your consent to fight, there was a possibility your attacker might strike first and injure you.
- Contributory negligence: They will say you contributed to the attack because of your drunkenness or an unreasonable provocation. They may also argue you weren’t badly hurt and your behavior, like delaying medical care, made your injuries worse than they otherwise would have been.
“Liability” is the term used to describe the legal responsibility your attacker has to compensate you for your injuries and resulting damages. Proof of culpability, minus legal defenses, plus direct and proximate cause, equal liability.
Contributory and Comparative Negligence
Most states give fight injury victims the right to compensation, even when they share some of the blame for causing the fight.
Contributory negligence is an extreme, archaic rule. In Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, the insurance company can use pure contributory negligence rules to flatly deny your claim if they think you are so much as one percent to blame for your injuries.
Fortunately, most states use Comparative Negligence rules for injury claims.
Under pure comparative negligence, you have the right to pursue compensation even if you’re primarily at fault for the fight.
In modified comparative negligence states, your injury claim can be denied if you are equally to blame (called the 50% rule) or more to blame (called the 51% rule) for causing the fight or contributing to your injuries.
Evidence to Build a Strong Fight Injury Claim
A strong and convincing injury claim starts with gathering good evidence to prove culpability, direct and proximate cause, liability, and damages. Begin collecting and organizing your claim records at the scene of the fight.
Police Reports: If you were in a fight initiated by another person, call the police. There’s nothing more valuable than a police report blaming your attacker, especially if the attacker was arrested at the scene.
When the police arrive at the scene, they will likely separate you from your attacker. The officers do this not only to eliminate further fighting but also to question each person independently. If there were multiple parties involved in the fight, police will question them, too.
The police will closely examine your injuries and those of your attacker. This helps them determine the type and severity of the aggression. If the injuries appear serious, they’ll call the paramedics. They will question witnesses to the fight. This is often challenging because witnesses tend to take the side of their friends, regardless of fault.
Finally, the police determine whom they believe is at fault and may make an arrest. The investigating officer enters all the information they gathered into their report. The official police report is a goldmine. You can purchase a certified copy from the police or sheriffs’ department for a small fee.
Witness Reports: Witnesses are invaluable. Finding independent witnesses who were at the scene of the fight and who aren’t your friends or family are the most helpful to your case.
Insurance companies view testimony from your friends and family as biased in your favor. It’s amazing how two sets of witnesses can have completely different descriptions of events.
When you find a witness helpful to your claim, ask the person to write down exactly what they saw and how the fight began. Use any paper you can find. Be sure to have the witness sign and date their statement.
Photographs and Videos: These days, with YouTube, Facebook, and other social media, someone can upload an account of just about any event in seconds. While speaking with witnesses, try to find one or more who videotaped the fight. Ask the witness to email you the video and ask them to include the date and time stamp.
A clear video can vindicate you, dispel your attacker’s claims you instigated the fight, and refute arguments that they had good reason to hit you.
Still photographs are also excellent tools. They’re especially helpful to show the type and severity of your injuries and those of your attacker. Because it takes time for some injuries to show up, take photos of your injuries at the time of the fight, and throughout your recovery period.
Surveillance Camera Footage: Security cameras are everywhere, inside and outside all manner of businesses and public venues. Contact the owner or manager of any property with surveillance cameras in the general area where the fight occurred. Ask them to preserve all footage from the day you were attacked.
Footage of the attacker approaching you and striking you can be invaluable. Equally important is any footage of the nearby area that may have captured your attacker’s behavior before the fight or as they fled the scene.
Proof of Damages: Without proof of real damages, there’s no compensation. You can’t succeed in a personal injury claim just because you’re upset about being slapped. Insurance companies don’t pay on anger or frustration claims. They only pay for tangible evidence of damages.
Proof of damages includes copies of your medical records, your medical and therapy bills, and receipts for your out-of-pocket expenses for medications, bandages, and other related expenses.
Additional proof includes a written verification from your employer detailing the dates and hours you were absent from work and the wages you lost while recovering.
Compensation Options for Fight Injuries
Unfortunately, most people don’t carry insurance for fights. Insurance companies certainly don’t offer insurance to cover acts of intentional violence.
Depending on the circumstances of the fight, the laws in your state, and the way insurance policies are written in that state, you may be able to file your injury claim with your attacker’s home or auto insurance policy.
Filing an Insurance Claim
If you’ve recovered from mild, soft-tissue injuries like a black eye, bruises, or some sprained muscles, you can probably negotiate a fair settlement directly with the insurance company.
Figure out a reasonable settlement amount by adding the cost of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.
Send your compensation demand in writing with copies of your bills, receipts, and other evidence.
We’ve made it easy with our sample Personal Injury Demand Letter.
Small Claims Court
The person who started the fight with you may not have insurance, or their insurance may not have applicable coverage. To make your attacker pay out of pocket for your damages, you’ll need to take legal action.
Depending on the amount of your damages, you can file a small claims lawsuit against your attacker. In your suit, you can request compensation for your actual damages and your pain and suffering up to the small claims court’s monetary limits.
If you win your small claims case, the court can order the attacker to pay you. If your attacker doesn’t have enough money, you can still file and enter the court’s judgment in your county’s records department. You may even be able to garnish the attacker’s wages.
Crime Victim Compensation Funds
If you’ve been badly injured in a fight, the attacker may already be in jail. After an assault, you will likely be burdened with medical bills, lost wages, and other related expenses. Sometimes criminal penalties include orders requiring them to pay restitution, a little at a time. You may see a little money coming in, or you might not see a dime.
You don’t have to rely on the attacker’s ability to pay to get the help you need. Crime victim compensation programs help victims of violent attacks and may be able to provide you monetary assistance.
Contact your State Crime Victim Compensation Program for more information, application deadlines, and compensation benefit details.
When to Hire an Attorney
If you’ve been severely injured in a fight, or your attacker isn’t the only liable party, you’ll need an experienced personal injury attorney to get the compensation you deserve.
Unprovoked fights can leave victims with serious traumatic injuries like brain trauma, spinal cord damage, broken bones, permanent disfigurement, internal bleeding, and other “hard” injuries.
Hard injuries are high-dollar claims. You can bet that any guilty party with deep pockets will have an army of lawyers and experts to keep you from winning your case.
An attorney will help you win complicated cases, especially when the person who hurt you isn’t the only one at fault for your severe injuries.
Case Summary: Concert Promoter Sued for Fight Injury
Jason McNeil and his wife were enjoying a summer concert in New York when he was approached by Craig Lawson, who punched McNeil in the head without warning. The blow knocked McNeil cold, and his head slammed into the hard ground when he fell.
McNeil suffered a catastrophic brain injury that left him permanently disabled.
Lawson was arrested and convicted for the assault. However, McNeil’s family learned that Lawson had already been kicked out of the concert for fighting with someone else before he came back in and punched McNeil.
McNeil’s family hired an attorney to file a lawsuit against the concert promoter, the security company, and other businesses involved in the event. Their complaint alleged the companies were negligent for lax security and poor crowd control, allowing Lawson to get drunk at the concert, and letting him back in when he’d already been escorted out for fighting.
The lawsuit asked for $150 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
If you or a loved one have been badly injured in a fight, there’s too much at stake to go it alone. It costs nothing to find out what a skilled personal injury attorney can do for you.
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