Personal Injury Law

Guide to Tort Law




What is Personal Injury Law?

Personal injury law refers to the legal remedies and defenses involved in civil lawsuits brought as a result of wrongful conduct. In fact, the word “tort” comes from a Latin term meaning twist, wrong, or harm. In contrast to criminal law, a tort action does not involve the government prosecuting the wrongdoer. Rather, these cases involve a private plaintiff seeking compensation (usually money) for the harm caused by the defendant’s actions.

Most personal injury cases are based on the doctrine of negligence. In essence, negligence requires every member of society to act responsibly and avoid putting others at risk. That is not to say that negligence will result each time someone gets hurt. The doctrine recognizes that some accidents are unavoidable. To establish liability, the plaintiff must show that a reasonably prudent person in the defendant’s position would have acted differently under the circumstances.

Examples of negligence include car accidents caused by drunk drivers, medical complications resulting from a physician’s carelessness, and dog bites that occur when vicious animals are permitted to roam free. In each instance, the responsible party ignored the risk posed to others, and as a result, the plaintiff was injured.

Once negligence has been established in a personal injury case, the defendant must pay the plaintiff for all injuries caused by the defendant’s actions. Certain types of damages are easy to calculate, such as property damage and medical bills. For other types, such as emotional distress and loss of earning capacity, expert testimony may be required. Punitive damages, meant to punish and deter particularly egregious conduct, may also be available.

When initiating a tort action, identifying the proper defendants can be difficult. This is because the “tortfeasor” who directly harmed the plaintiff – be it a delivery driver, nurse, grocery store clerk, or other individual – may not have the financial resources to pay a large judgment. An experienced injury attorney can identify and sue additional parties who are liable based on their relationship to the tortfeasor, such as a landlord or employer.

Common Torts and Defenses

Personal injury law encompasses a number of causes of action besides negligence. Many of these fall under the umbrella of intentional torts. As the name suggests, in these situations the defendant acts purposefully to harm the plaintiff. Examples include assault, battery, false imprisonment, trespass, theft, and infliction of emotional distress.

On the opposite end of the tort spectrum, there are scenarios in which defendants will be liable even though they did everything possible to avoid causing the harm. This is referred to as strict liability. The law will hold a defendant strictly liable if someone is hurt while the defendant is engaging in a highly dangerous activity, even if the activity is legal and all precautions are taken. Building demolition and transporting hazardous materials fall into this category.

Another common tort involves injuries caused by defective products. Liability in these cases can be imposed based on a theory that the manufacturer acted negligently by designing and selling an unsafe product. Or, if certain elements are met, plaintiffs hurt by a defective product may be able to sue under a strict liability theory. Either way, product liability cases have the potential to become large class action lawsuits, involving many plaintiffs and enormous money judgments.

To defend against personal injury liability, defendants tend to rely on a few common defense theories. In negligence cases, the defendant may argue that the plaintiff did not use due care, and is partially or wholly responsible for his or her own injury. The defendant may also claim that the plaintiff “assumed the risk” by voluntarily participating in a dangerous sport or activity, or that the plaintiff impliedly gave the defendant permission to take the action that ended up harming the plaintiff.

Plaintiffs who want to avoid losing a tort case based on such arguments should hire legal counsel. Retaining an attorney will also help avoid the unfortunate circumstance of violating a statute of limitations (that is, missing the deadline for filing the lawsuit), which is always a concern in personal injury cases.

Copyright HG.org

Know your Rights!

  • 10 Important Questions for Your Personal Injury Attorney

    Accidents rarely come with any forewarning, leaving most victims unprepared and unsure of how to proceed. When you or someone you know is injured, you will have a lot of uncertainty and need to make a lot of decisions very quickly. You should always seek immediate medical attention for any injuries and also seek the assistance of qualified, experienced legal representation. But, how do you know who the best attorney is for your case?

  • How Are Damages Established in a Tort Claim?

    The goal of damages in tort actions is to make the injured person “whole” through the award of money to compensate for injuries caused by the accident or incident.

  • I Was Given Bad Advice About Fitness or Nutrition, What Can I Do?

    I recently spoke to a friend, who is a personal trainer, about diet and exercise. Her advice, while well-intentioned, was wildly off-base from a scientific standpoint. This got me to wondering, what if I had taken her advice to heart and suffered a loss? Would the consequences of choices I made about diet and exercise be mine alone or would she have some liability for her inaccurate assertions?

  • Injured at the Beauty Salon, What Should I Do?

    Everyday, millions of women have various services performed at beauty salons. Hair cuts, dying, threading, manicures and pedicures, massages, and a host of other services are now available. While one rarely thinks about it, though, beauty salons are actually very dangerous environments. So what should you do if you are injured at the beauty salon?

  • Sports Injury Laws

    But what happens if an injury occurs as a result of a deliberate hit or someone acts so recklessly that injury is almost certain to occur?

  • What is Negligence?

    One can only bring a lawsuit for negligence if they can establish all four of the required elements. If any one of the elements is missing, then there is no negligence from a legal standpoint, and a lawsuit cannot be sustained.

  • What is the Economic Loss Doctrine and How Does it Apply to My Case?

    If you have been involved in a product liability dispute (or some other types of cases), your attorney may have mentioned that your claim is subject to the “economic loss doctrine” or the “economic loss rule.” That could leave you asking what that is and when it applies.

  • What to do After a Bike Accident

    First, the rider must try to keep his or her cool. What you do in the immediate aftermath of any accident, including a bike accident, may have a big impact on how much you recover for your injuries and damage to your bike. It may also affect the outcome of any lawsuits resulting from the accident.

  • What to Do after a Personal Injury

    The moments following an accident or other injury are confusing and overwhelming. You may not know what to do or where to turn if you or a loved one has been injured due to someone's negligence or wrongdoing.

Articles About Personal Injury Law

  • Can I Represent Myself in a Criminal Case?
    Explaining the process of representing oneself in a criminal case, and outlining the risks involved with doing so.
  • Patient Safety Initiatives Needed to Address Medical Malpractice
    Medical malpractice is a national crisis, killing more than 200,000 people each year by some estimates.
  • What Is an Attractive Nuisance?
    An attractive nuisance is a dangerous condition on a person’s property that attracts children onto the property and puts their safety in danger. Landowners who have an attractive nuisance on their property are held to a higher duty to protect children. If an attractive nuisance is found to have injured a child on the landowner’s property, the landowner may be required to pay for the damages that resulted, even if the child was technically trespassing.
  • Challenges of Winter Driving in Rhode Island
    Winter driving can be extremely difficult, especially here in Rhode Island. Our proximity to the ocean constantly opens up the possibility of huge storms, blizzards and nor'easters. This closeness also influences frequent temperature changes with many freeze-thaw cycles throughout the winter months. Such a weather pattern makes roads slippery and riddled with potholes, contributing to more treacherous conditions for drivers.
  • Factors a Car Accident Lawyer Looks For to Determine the Winnability of a Case
    Car accidents are generally scary and stressful situations to find yourself in, no matter how major or minor they might be. However, when you also have to worry about recouping costs for medical bills, lost wages, property damage and anything else you owe as a result, it makes the hardship much more difficult to manage on your own. That’s where the knowledge and assistance of an experienced car accident lawyer really comes in handy.
  • Who Owns the Nursing Homes in California?
    When moving your loved one into a nursing home, you want the best. Except, that info isn't readily available to the public.
  • Can I Sue if I Am Injured on Private Property?
    If a person is injured on the private property that belongs to another, he or she may be able to sue for the damages that he or she sustained. The ability to recover will depend on state laws regarding premises liability and the relative duty of the host and guest.
  • Understanding Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage for Car Accidents
    An uninsured motorist is a driver who does not have a valid auto insurance policy. Under Rhode Island law, it is illegal to operate a vehicle without auto insurance.
  • Connecticut Elder Abuse on the Rise
    We all want the best for our loved ones. Most of us would give anything to give back to our parents in their old age what they have given to us growing up. Unfortunately, some families have members that do not respect the relationship with their elders, and may take advantage of them in a vulnerable condition.
  • 2014 Recalls Aimed at Infant Products
    Thousands of consumer products are recalled due to safety concerns every year. Every year, hundreds and even thousands of consumer products are recalled due to safety concerns. These products fall under a wide variety of categories, from automotive parts and products to kitchen goods, household accessories, pet toys and products, and children's products.
  • All Tort and Personal Injury Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Tort and Personal Injury including: animal bites, asbestos mesothelioma, back and neck injury, bicycle accident, birth injury, brain injury, burn injuries, catastrophic injuries, construction accidents, construction injuries, defamation, libel and slander, defective products, industrial injuries, mass tort, negligence, nursing home abuse, pedestrian accident, personal injury, premises liability, product liability, sexual abuse, slip and fall, spinal cord injury, torts, toxic mold, toxic torts, workplace injuries and wrongful death.

Personal Injury Statute of Limitations by State

Personal Injury Law - US

  • ABA - Personal Injury

    The American Bar Association’s personal injury web page contains information about pursuing a claim, as well as general discussions of negligence, medical malpractice, and products liability law.

  • ABA - Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section (TIPS)

    TIPS brings together legal professionals from all sides of tort law, including plaintiffs’ attorneys, defense lawyers, and insurance representatives. While aimed at practitioners, the site contains news and events of interest to the public.

  • Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA)

    The U.S. House of Representatives provides this online summary of the FTCA. Those looking to sue an employee of the federal government will find this to be a useful starting point for further research.

  • Personal Injury - Wikipedia

    This web page offers an encyclopedia-style description of personal injury law in the U.S. and abroad. The discussion includes information about insurance coverage and the taxation of damage awards.

  • Theories of Tort Law

    Stanford University has compiled this outline of tort law theories and practices. A significant portion of the discussion deals with the economic aspects of the subject. An extensive biography is provided.

  • Tort Law - Definition

    Tort refers to that body of the law which will allow an injured person to obtain compensation from the person who caused the injury.

  • Tort Law - Overview

    Cornell University Law School maintains a series of web pages known as the Legal Information Institute (LII). The tort law page offers a thorough overview, with in-text links to related topics.

  • USDOJ - Torts Branch

    This page explains the role of the U.S. Department of Justice in tort legislation involving the federal government and its officers. The page also provides access to an expandable flow chart of the entire USDOJ civil division.

Organizations Related to Personal Injury Law

Publications Regarding Personal Injury Law


Find a Local Lawyer