Introduction to Personal Injury Law

What is personal injury law?

Personal injury law is an area of law that allows one who has been wrongfully hurt to seek to recover money for injuries sustained because of the fault of another person.  This could include an automobile injury, an injury at a business or restaurant, or a defective product.  A person can be deemed at fault based on violating an established law, such as laws in the Vehicle Code, or by whether such behavior was deemed to be unreasonable.

How does someone who is hurt obtain monetary recovery?

Personal injury law is designed to compensate the victim, through money, for the losses they sustained as a result of the accident.  The money that can be recovered includes items such as medical and ambulance bills, future medical care, loss work, destroyed or damaged property, inability to work in the future and other items.  In addition, there is also recovery for what are deemed noneconomic damages, and these include pain and suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and anxiety.

If the conduct is deemed bad or egregious enough, such as drunk driving and other reckless behavior that endangers the health and lives of others, then one can also seek damages that are designed to punish the wrongdoer.  These are called punitive damages.

How do I show that the conduct caused the injury?

In many cases, victims need to have a doctor explain that the injury sustained was caused by the fault of the wrongdoer.  This can be anything from a rear-end car accident to an injury sustained on a bicycle ride, a doctor is usually necessary to explain how the injury occurred and whether that injury will improve or continue.   Some cases also need experts such as an accident reconstruction expert, who can explain what happened in the accident. 

What does a person have to do when they bring a personal injury matter?

The person who brings a case, called a “plaintiff,” has to participate in many things.  This includes providing his or her attorney issues related to the injury and other personal information.  The plaintiff also usually submits to a deposition, where the attorney for the wrongdoer asks the plaintiff questions about his or her injuries and what happened in the accident.  The plaintiff may also have to be evaluated by a doctor hired by the wrongdoer or the wrongdoer’s insurance company.  Finally, the plaintiff will probably have to attend settlement conferences and possibly a trial.

Do cases have to go through a trial?

Most cases eventually settle with an agreement reached with the insurance carrier of the person who committed the wrong.  Sometimes, the cases go to trial, where a jury decides whether the person was at fault for the injuries sustained and what amount of money will compensate the victim for those injuries.

If you have any questions about the process or want to discuss a personal injury case, feel free to contact attorney Frank Pitre at (650) 697-6000.

Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP based on the San Francisco Peninsula for over 45 years, engages exclusively in litigation.  The firm’s dedication to prosecuting or defending socially just actions has earned it a national reputation.

  • Frank M. Pitre


    Frank M. Pitre, a San Francisco native, earned his B.S., cum laude, in Business Administration and his J.D. from the University of San Francisco. While at USF, Frank served a legal externship with the California ...


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