What is a Personal Injury?
Personal Injury, a broad term, involves an injury that is sustained physically, emotionally or mentally by a person as a result of the negligent or intentional actions of another person, including a business entity. The victim is entitled to claim damages where he/she has suffered a personal injury due to the other party's conduct which is negligent, careless or intentional misconduct. For instance, the driver of a taxi runs a stop sign and collides with another car; the driver will be legally responsible to pay compensation for any injuries that arise from the accident. A claim for psychological harm can also be made, even if it is not associated with any physical injury, though there are a strict set of rules which define the circumstances under which such claim can be succeeded.
The underlying principle behind personal injury claims is that where the damage is caused to you by the misconduct, negligence or carelessness of another, you are entitled to receive compensation from the person responsible for the loss suffered by you.
Depending upon the type of accident and the extent of injuries suffered, many types of personal injury cases can be brought to a Court. It is a civil action, where if the party is found to be legally at fault for causing the injury, he or the entity is responsible to pay damages as a remedy. In the case of criminal liability, the party liable will be subject to sanctions like fines, imprisonment, and community service when prosecuted and found guilty in the criminal court.
Personal injury is related to tortious liability and in most cases are governed by the law of negligence, which dictates a reasonable standard of care owed between parties and liability when the breach of the reasonable care by one party results in the injury of the other. It also involves cases where a person is, for example, injured by a defective product. In such situations, it is not necessary to establish carelessness or negligence, since in cases of product defect, the legal concept of strict liability applies.
Compensation for Personal Injury
The amount of compensation that can be recovered will depend upon the nature of the injury and the consequent costs and losses. The damage must be a recognizable one and must entail a clear chain of action leading to the pain and suffering of the claimant. This is not always a simple task since there can be pre-existing medical conditions or multiple potential causes to the injury. As a result, expert medical evidence is often called in to address these issues.
The Curious Case of McDonald's Coffee (Liebeck V. McDonald's)
The late Stella Liebeck, then 79 years old, had purchased a cup of McDonald's coffee which she accidentally spilled, pouring scalding hot coffee on her. As a result, she suffered third-degree burns on over 16 percent of her body, which led to 8 days of hospitalization, whirlpool treatments for the debridement of her wounds, skin grafting, disability, and scarring for more than two years. When McDonald's shut down her attempts for an out of court settlement, she decided to sue them for gross negligence. The jury found 20% of fault on Liebeck and the remaining 80% on McDonald's. Liebeck was awarded compensatory damages of $160,000, and $2.7 million as punitive damages for McDonald's misconduct. The punitive damages were further reduced to $480,000 by the trial judge. However, the parties subsequently agreed to enter in a post-verdict settlement, where Liebeck received a total of $600,000 as damages.
As seen above, most of Liebeck's award composed of punitive damages rather than compensatory. This represents a class of lawsuits where a compensation culture has developed in many developed countries. However, this clogs their legal systems and can drastically damage private companies and their insurers.
Personal Injury Under the Dubai Courts
Along with the example seen above, there is also another scenario where a person grievously injured is unable to prove the other party's negligence in the court, and as a result, receives nothing from the legal process.
This is the reason why Dubai adopted a different approach to personal injury cases and its compensations:
The injured party has recourse to take legal action and sue the negligent party, but the scale for such compensation shall be set by the courts to avoid huge awards similar to the McDonald's case.
Compensation for injury, physical or psychological, is usually limited to an amount equal to two years' pay but can also include the cost of future case and loss of earnings.
The UAE also contains a no-fault scheme of compensation for those who, though injured, is unable to prove negligence of the other party. This ensures that the party will get some compensation (a maximum amount of AED 35,000) for significant injuries, even if no one is at fault.
Relevant Legislation and Provisions guiding Personal Injury Claims in Dubai
Provisions of the Civil Code (Federal Law No 5 of 1985)
I. Article 282
It lays down the basis of responsibility for personal injury claims. In the words of the provision, if any person comes to harm, the doer, even one who lacks discretion, is liable to make good the harm.
The term "harm" is a general term and connotes several actions like the unlawful act, harmful act, act contrary to the law, or an act prohibited under the law. It is the discretion of the judge to decide where the action amounts to harm or not; however, the standard of care dictates that there is an obligation to not cause harm, requiring the party to exercise reasonable care of a prudent man.
Though the judge has a wide discretion to determine whether certain actions amount to harm, the burden of proof falls on the claimant. To be more specific, under Article 282, for the court to recognize an act as harmful, the following elements are to be proven by the claimant:
- The act of the other person, whether positive or negative
- The harm caused to the claimant; and
- The causal relationship between the two
II. Article 292
Article 292 specifies the method of calculating the indemnity (damages), which shall be assessed in accordance to the amount of harm the claimant suffered along with the loss of profit, provided the loss of profit forms a natural result of the act.
The provision, however, fails to provide actual guidance for the Courts in determining the number of damages to be awarded, entailing considerable discretion upon the judge to decide the quantum of damages. This has been reaffirmed by the Court of Cassation who also stated that the Court is not necessitated to follow a mathematical mechanism in assessing the quantum of damages.
Further, under Article 389, it is provided that if the amount of compensation is not fixed under a provision of law or contract, the judge shall compute the damages in an amount which equals the harm suffered at the time of the occurrence. It can be concluded that with regard to the quantum of damages, the court has an effective unfettered discretion in deciding the amount to be awarded to the claimant.
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