Defenses Frequently Used in Personal Injury Lawsuits

March 30, 2018

If you have never been involved in litigation before, then you may not be aware of the various arguments that can be put forth by defendants to avoid (or otherwise minimize) liability.  There are a number of defenses that you may encounter in personal injury litigation, though not all will be applicable to your case.  Whether a defense is used to avoid liability will largely depend on the particular circumstances of the case.

For example, if you are bringing an action against a negligent defendant, and the defendant finds out that you suffered from a pre-existing physical condition before the accident, then they will almost certainly attempt to argue that you have no claim due to “no new injuries.”

Defenses are frequently plead in the alternative.  Pleading in the alternative follows a fairly predictable format: “My client is not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries because A.  Even if A is true, then my client is not liable for plaintiff’s injuries because B.  Even if B is true, then my client is not liable for plaintiff’s injuries because C,” and so forth.  Thus, defendants may chain together a variety of arguments to avoid liability.  Each of these will have to be overcome in order to successfully recover damages.

Defendants are therefore incentivized to plead as many defenses as reasonably possible.

Defenses Commonly Seen in Personal Injury Litigation

The Statute of Limitations Deadline Has Passed

In Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, there is a statute of limitations that applies to personal injury claims.  The statute of limitations sets a deadline by which the plaintiff must file their lawsuit.  If the deadline passes without the plaintiff having brought their claims against the defendant, then the plaintiff will no longer have the right to pursue damages in a court of law.  As such, if you have taken an excessive amount of time to file your lawsuit, the defendant will almost certainly use this defense.

The applicable statute of limitations for personal injury claims in Pennsylvania is two years, and begins to run from the date of injury.  Importantly, however, there are various circumstances under which the limitations period will be suspended or extended.  For example, if you have suffered a hidden, non-obvious injury, then the statute of limitations period will only begin on the date that you discover (or should have reasonably discovered) your injury.  If you’ve waited “too long,” you might still be entitled to sue and recover damages, so long as the circumstances justify an extension.

Plaintiff Has Not Suffered New and Distinct Injuries

All actionable injury claims require that the plaintiff demonstrate that they have suffered damages as a consequence of the defendant’s wrongful or negligent conduct.  When the plaintiff suffers from a pre-existing condition (for example, a long-term health issue such as a back injury), the defendant may assert that the purported injury symptoms are no different than the symptoms of the pre-existing condition.  If there is no new and distinct injury, then there are no damages, and as such, the plaintiff cannot recover.

As a plaintiff with a pre-existing condition, you’ll want to introduce medical record evidence (and the testimony of medical experts) that clearly distinguish your pre-existing condition from your new injuries.  If the accident at-issue did not actually create a new injury, and simply worsened your existing condition, you can still recover!  You’ll be limited to recovering damages for the difference in your condition, however.

Defendant’s Negligence Did Not Actually Cause the Plaintiff’s Injuries

Even if the defendant is found to have acted negligently, recklessly, or intentionally, they may escape liability if their actions did not actually cause your injuries.  How so?  Consider the following example.

Suppose that you are injured in a motor vehicle accident.  The defendant was driving in an erratic manner and rear-ended you at a red light.  Despite the fact that the defendant was negligent, however, it is not their negligence which caused your injuries — an investigation into the facts reveals that their brakes were defectively manufactured, and that the brakes failed, leading to the collision.  You would not be entitled to sue and recover from the driver (but you might have a claim against the brakes manufacturer).

Plaintiff is Contributorily Negligent

In accordance with Pennsylvania statutory law, if the plaintiff may not recover damages for their injuries if they are at least 50 percent at fault for their injuries.  Plaintiffs may still recover damages (though the damages will be reduced in proportion with their fault) if they are less than 50 percent liable for their own injuries.

For example, if you are involved in a car accident with the defendant, and you were also speeding at the time of the accident (and driving somewhat erratically), then the defendant might argue that you are equally or more at-fault for the accident.  If they succeed in establishing that you have contributed to your injuries to such a degree, they will be able to avoid liability altogether.

Schedule a Free Consultation With an Allentown Personal Injury Lawyer

Here at Drake Hileman & Davis, PC, our attorneys have represented clients in a range of personal injury litigation for over three decades.  Since 1985, we have been committed to the provision of client-oriented legal advocacy — throughout the litigation process, we keep clients apprised of changes in their case.

We approach every personal injury lawsuit prepared for trial litigation.  We are therefore well-positioned to negotiate on favorable terms, and if necessary, to successfully obtain compensation for our clients at trial.  Our results speak volumes: over the years, we have secured numerous multimillion dollar verdicts (and negotiated multimillion dollar settlements) on behalf of our clients.

If you’ve been injured due to the fault of another, call (888) 777-7098 today to get in touch with an experienced Allentown personal injury lawyer here at Drake Hileman & Davis, PC.  During your free initial consultation, we will evaluate the facts and work with you to determine how to proceed with your claims.