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How Does Case Law Affect a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Feb 27, 2023 | Personal Injury

Many factors come into play in a personal injury case. From building a claim, selecting a jury, and arguing the case at trial, a good personal injury lawyer must carefully consider the strategy they will implement. Not only are medical records essential to proving the claim — in addition to photographs, video footage, and other evidence to demonstrate liability — but case law can have a significant impact on how a lawsuit will turn out. 

What is Case Law?

“Case law” refers to the body of former cases that have been decided by a court. When these decisions are applied to determine the outcome of another case, they are referred to as “precedent.” Case law is different from statutory law, which is created by the legislature. It is also distinguished from local laws, ordinances, and regulations.    

Understanding the New York Court System

To understand how case law is made, it’s essential to be aware that there are different levels of courts in New York. Specifically, there are three tiers of courts, that each issue their own judicial decisions. Depending upon the level of appeal, the following courts issue decisions that become case law for personal injury matters in New York:

  • Supreme Court — Although its name might indicate otherwise, the “supreme courts” in New York are the lowest level of court that hear both civil cases (including personal injury matters) and criminal cases. Cases in Supreme Court can be heard and determined by a jury, or a judge can decide them at a bench trial. Each county has its own Supreme Court.  
  • Appellate Divisions — There are four Appellate Divisions in New York, one located in each judicial department. These courts hear appeals from the lower courts, including the supreme courts. 
  • The Court of Appeals — Also commonly known as the court of last resort, this is the highest court in New York. Before it reaches the court of appeals, a case must first be heard by the Supreme Court, followed by the appropriate Appellate Division. 

Case law is specific to jurisdiction. For instance, if a case is venued in the Second Department, that is the precedent which would be applied. Opinions from the other departments would be considered “persuasive authority.” However, decisions by the Court of Appeals can be applied in cases in any jurisdiction in the state. 

Importantly, a case can only be appealed to a higher level court if the lower level made a mistake of law or fact that would have resulted in a different outcome. 

Case Law and Personal Injury Motions

Unlike statutes, which are written in the abstract, case law involves specific facts and circumstances. In the field of personal injury, there is a vast body of case law. A good personal injury lawyer will conduct diligent research to ensure it is both correctly and persuasively applied in drafting and arguing any motion that must be made in your case. Case law can be found for just about every nuanced aspect of a personal injury case.

Case law is the foundation of any motion — the more analogous the precedent to the case at hand, the more likely a judge will determine that it should be applied to decide the issue at hand. A skilled lawyer will know how to use previous cases to present the most effective and compelling argument possible.

Contact a Skilled New York City Personal Injury Lawyer

If you were hurt in an accident caused by the negligence of another, a skilled personal injury lawyer can make all the difference in the outcome of your case. Due to our extensive experience, knowledge, and acumen, we regularly secure verdicts and settlements in the millions for our injured clients. 

The Edelsteins, Faegenburg & Brown LLP is a personal injury law firm dedicated to fighting for the rights of accident victims to ensure they get the maximum compensation they deserve for their injuries. Located in Manhattan, our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout New York City since 1937. Call to schedule a free consultation at (212) 425-1999 today.




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