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Adding insult to injury: The court requires proof of your claims

It might feel insulting when the facts appear clear to you because you know that someone else caused your injuries, but Pennsylvania courts require more than just your word to award you damages.

Okay, so what do I need to prove?

The court requires proof of the following five elements in order to enter a monetary judgment in your favor:

1. Duty: The other party must owe you some sort of duty of care. For example, in a car accident, every driver owes a duty to everyone else on the road, such as other drivers, passengers, pedestrians and bicyclists. Every driver must follow the traffic laws, maintain focus on the road and otherwise drive responsibly in order to meet this duty.

2. Breach of duty: Failing to use reasonable care breaches an individual's duty to you. In keeping with the car accident example, failing to pay attention, driving while impaired or engaging in any activity that removes a driver's focus from the roadway violates that duty.

3. Cause in fact: Commonly referred to as the "but-for" test. If not for the action or inaction of the at-fault driver, for example, you would not have suffered any injuries.

4. Proximate cause: The circumstances that led to your injuries must be foreseeable. A driver reasonably knows that texting behind the wheel constitutes a distraction. Furthermore, that distraction can lead to accidents.

5. Damages: The court requires you to show the damages incurred because of the other party's negligence. For instance, your hospitalization, lost wages and other financial losses constitute actual damages. Other damages such as pain and suffering are also allowed under the law if appropriate.

Providing the court with evidence regarding each of these elements could lead to a monetary judgment in your favor.

The insurance company offered me a settlement. Should I take it?

Do not just accept an insurance company's offer. Insurance companies work for their shareholders and others - not for you. Any offer most likely falls below what you might receive with further negotiations or in a court case. These cases get complicated quickly, and without sufficient knowledge of this area of law, you jeopardize your financial future. No one expects you to understand this area of law fully, and it would be easy to underestimate your damages or not to know how to prove that the other party caused your injuries.

An attorney who regularly practices in this area of law can provide advice regarding settlement offers and can guide you through negotiations with the insurance company. The inability to reach a settlement that benefits you could require further action, such as the filing of a personal injury claim. A knowledgeable attorney will review your case by conducting an investigation into the accident, your injuries and the damages to which you might be entitled.

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