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Many people are not sure how accident claims work and what you need to prove to have a successful claim. Today, I’ll answer the questions, “How do accident claims work?” and “What are three key elements of a successful personal injury claim?”

If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, or you fell on ice because somebody didn’t take care of your walkway, you might be considering a claim to be compensated for your injuries.

In today’s article, I’ll share what makes a strong claim and what personal injury lawyers look for when they first evaluate a claim.

Three Parts of a Successful Accident Claim

When I first started doing personal injury work, a more experienced lawyer shared with me an easy way to visualize the success of a claim. 

And that image is one of a three-legged stool. 

How do personal injury claims work

Each of the three legs needs to be strong enough to hold its weight or the whole thing will topple over. 

So in our analogy, what are those three legs? They are (1) fault, (2) damages, and (3) somebody to pay you. 

Let’s look at each of them in turn. 

Part One of an Accident Claim: Establishing Fault

The first is fault. Personal injury claims are fault-based, meaning that if there is not a person or business that’s responsible for your injuries, there’s no obligation to pay you. 

The law calls this level of fault negligence, but you can think of it as carelessness. That is, was your injury the result of somebody’s careless act or careless failure to act? If so, it was probably negligence. 

We take a much deeper dive into negligence and its evil twin, comparative negligence, in our article here. 

Part Two of an Accident Claim: Assessing Damages

The second leg of our stool is damaged. Damages are what the law calls the harms and losses to a person as a result of negligence. 

With some very limited exceptions, there must be a physical injury as a result of negligence for you to have a damages claim. 

And if there is a physical injury, you are entitled to be compensated for all of the harms and losses that flow from that injury, things like:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Embarrassment
  • Pain 
  • Suffering

This is a very complicated topic, of course, and we do dive deeper into the concept of damages in our video here: Video About Damages

But for the moment, think of it this way. The longer the harm lasts, the more seriously it impacts your life, the more likely there will be more damages and a greater need for financial compensation to balance the scales and make you whole. 

Part Three of an Accident Claim: Calculating Available Payment

The third leg of the stool is someone to pay you. This is often overlooked but is just as important as the other two legs of the stool. 

In most cases, there’s insurance coverage to compensate negligently injured people. Except in rare circumstances, lack of insurance coverage or insufficient insurance coverage can be a deal breaker for a case. 

As with the other two legs of the stool, we discuss insurance coverage and insurance policy limits his topic in more detail in our video here: More About Insurance Coverage

Take a moment to consider this, if you are involved in a car accident and the other driver has only the minimum of $25,000 in insurance, then no matter how badly you were injured, that driver’s insurance company is only ever going to pay you $25,000. 

And that’s why lawyers are always looking for other sources of insurance coverage and why you should always have under or uninsured motorist coverage for yourself and your family. So if that other driver does have insurance coverage and you have underinsured motorist coverage, then you probably have a strong third and final leg to this stool. 


The analogy of a three-legged stool is a simple and helpful one when considering whether a personal injury claim will be successful in compensating a negligently injured person. 

Each of the three elements – fault, damages, and someone to pay – must be strong enough to support the weight of the claim. If any of them are weaker than they should be, or there is not enough evidence or insufficient insurance coverage, then the whole thing can come crashing down. 

We hope you found today’s article helpful. If you want the advice of an experienced Vermont Injury lawyer, call Drew Palcsik at Champlain Valley Law.