In some states, there is a tremendous difference between the two. In other states, they are almost identical, as a personal injury lawyer can attest.
Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, and a few other jurisdictions are no-fault states. In claims that involve only property loss — such as damage to a vehicle —limited compensation is available. Typically, these victims are only entitled to money for their medical expenses, lost wages, and other direct, out-of-pocket economic losses. If they suffer serious injuries, they are entitled to additional compensation. Some states use a verbal threshold, such as a “permanent” injury. Other states use a monetary threshold, such as $50,000. This additional compensation is outlined below.
Most states are tort states. Regardless of the amount of property damage, victims may receive compensation not only for their economic losses, but also their noneconomic losses. These damages include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment in life, emotional distress, and loss of consortium (companionship).
A personal injury can be a visible wound, like a broken bone, or an invisible one, like a brain injury. Both these kinds of damages are recoverable in court.
Plaintiffs always have the burden of proof in negligence cases. They must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Such evidence includes:
- Police Report: The business records are often incomplete. The police report is a neutral examination of the facts and usually is a solid first piece of evidence.
- Video Evidence: Red-light cameras, surveillance video, and amateur videographers often record footage which fills in some of the evidentiary gaps that other methods may not include.
- Witness Statements: First responders usually interview witnesses. An attorney takes those initial witness statements and follows through even further. A more detailed investigation means more evidence.
- Electronic Evidence: Most passenger cars have Event Data Recorders that measure items like steering angle and vehicle speed. Similarly, many commercial trucks have Electronic Logging Devices which keep track of operational hours.
In some cases, additional punitive damages may be available based on the evidence. To win this money, the victim/plaintiff must introduce clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor (negligent actor) consciously disregarded a known risk.