Explore the most common types of personal injury cases, the median award for plaintiff winners, and which types of cases are most likely (and least likely) to end in victory for the plaintiff.
The term “personal injury” refers to any type of legal dispute that arises when someone is injured as a result of an accident and seeks to hold another person legally responsible for that harm. Personal injury claims also include situations where someone intentionally causes harm to another, such as assault.
In some instances, the responsible party’s insurance company will pay for the injured person’s medical expenses and other damages for accidental injuries.
If you have been in an accident or otherwise injured, you can also choose to hire a personal injury attorney to represent you and potentially file a lawsuit on your behalf. Many personal injury cases are resolved through an informal settlement before a lawsuit is filed, but some cases will go to trial.
In this article, we will give a brief overview of the different types of personal injury cases and then discuss some statistics about personal injury lawsuits in the United States. All statistics included in this article were found in a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Notable Personal Injury Statistics
- Traffic accidents are the most common type of personal injury accident in the United States.
- Personal injury cases generally contribute to about 10% of all civil case filings in courts of general jurisdiction, and only about 3% of those cases go to trial.
- Injured parties are most likely to win in tort trials involving animal attacks such as dog bites.
- Injured parties are least likely to win in tort trials involving medical malpractice.
- The median final award for plaintiff winners in personal injury cases was $24,000.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
In the legal system, personal injury claims can also be called tort claims or just “torts.” Let’s discuss a few of the most common types of tort cases.
Traffic accidents such as truck accidents are the most common type of personal injury accident in the United States. In personal injury cases involving car accidents, the at-fault driver typically can be held financially responsible for injuries caused by the car crash.
Slip and Fall Accidents
Property owners have a legal duty to keep their premises reasonably safe and hazard-free to prevent injuries to others. Premises liability injuries, commonly called slip and fall injuries, occur when someone is injured on someone else’s property and that injury was caused because a property owner did not comply with their legal duty.
Doctors and health care professionals have a legal duty to provide a certain level of care to their patients. If someone is injured because a health care professional provides treatment that falls below the proper medical standard of care, the injured party may assert a medical malpractice claim against the treating physician.
Personal injury cases involving product liability claims occur when someone is injured by a defective product. In these situations, the manufacturer or designer of a product can be held liable.
Personal Injury Cases in Court
Personal injury cases generally contribute to about 10% of all civil case filings in courts of general jurisdiction, and only about 3% of those cases go to trial.
According to statistics reported by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 60% (16,397) of the 26,950 civil court case trials in 2005 were personal injury cases.
While there are no recent statistics about the total number of personal injury cases filed, if you divide 16,397 (the number of personal injury cases that went to trial) by 0.03 (the percentage of all personal injury cases that went to trial), you can get a rough estimate of about 565,000 tort cases filed each year.
Another interesting personal injury case statistic is that over 90% of tort trials in 2005 were decided by a jury instead of a judge. This number would be substantial in any situation, but it’s especially impressive when compared to the 36% of trials involving contract disputes and the mere 26% of trials involving land that were decided by a jury.
Most Commonly Tried Types of Personal Injury Cases
The three most common types of personal injury trials in 2005 were:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Premises liability
The 9,431 car accident trials accounted for 57% of all personal injury trials and 35% of all civil trials.
The second most common category of personal injury trial was medical malpractice, which had almost 7,000 fewer trials than car accident cases did. The 2,449 medical malpractice trials constituted 15% of the personal injury trials and 9.1% of all civil trials.
Slip and fall trials, listed as premises liability, came in third, with 1,863 cases representing 11% of personal injury trials and 7% of all civil trials.
Product liability cases were the seventh most common type of personal injury trial, with only 354 cases going to trial. These trials made up 2% of tort trials and a scant 1.3% of all civil trials.
Personal Injury Case Success Rates at Trial
When personal injury lawsuits did go to trial, the plaintiff (the injured party) won a little more than half of the time (52%). This number is a little lower than the overall civil victory rate of 60%.
Damages in Personal Injury Cases
The median final award for plaintiff winners in personal injury cases was $24,000. Asbestos-related product liability cases were the biggest winners, with a median final award amount of $682,000. Compare that to the median award amount in motor vehicle accident cases, which was only $15,000.
The table below shows the distribution of damages awarded in all personal injury cases where the plaintiff won at trial.
Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases
Punitive damages are awarded in addition to any compensatory damages to punish the defendant for extreme behavior.
In personal injury cases, 822 of the 8,455 plaintiff winners (approximately 10%) also sought punitive damages. Of that 10%, 254 were awarded punitive damages (approximately 31%). This means that only 3% of tort plaintiffs who won at trial also received punitive damages.
The median amount of punitive damages awarded in these 254 cases was $55,000. By far the largest amount was issued in medical malpractice trials, with a median punitive damages award amount of $2,835,000.
The personal injury cases that saw the lowest punitive damages awards (of the types of cases where punitive damages were actually awarded) were car accident cases, with median punitive damages of $7,500.
The majority of tort cases where punitive damages were awarded involved punitive damages of less than $250,000. Only 59 cases, or 23% of cases where punitive damages were awarded, saw punitive damages greater than $250,000, and 43 cases (17%) involved punitive damages of $1 million or more.
If you’ve been involved in an injury accident and are considering a personal injury lawsuit, you can contact a personal injury attorney for a free consultation.