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.

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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?

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  • Sports Injury Laws

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  • What is Negligence?

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    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.

Personal Injury Case Handbook

Articles About Personal Injury Law

  • Liability with Dram Shop
    In an effort to curb the disastrous results of drunk driving, more and more states have implemented laws to hold additional parties responsible for their collusion in contributing to drunk driving. These laws are often instituted when strict penalties for DUI have failed to successfully decrease the number of accidents and DUI cases.
  • Prom Season and Dram Shop Liability
    Prom is one of the most festive times of the year for high school students. For many, it is the first time that they dress up to a formal event and the first time that they may be given full freedom by their parents. While this is certainly an exciting time, it is also a time to be concerned about alcohol abuse and potential liability issues associated with the event.
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    When a driver is texting, they are not paying attention to the road or traffic. This may lead to severe injury through negligence. Because all senses are impaired whilst texting, these actions are potentially worse than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
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    Teenage drivers may cause severe injury or death when driving under the influence. The lack of experience and knowledge about what to do tends to lead to damages by these drivers. When individuals are driving it is best to avoid drinking in any quantity, but it is especially important for teenage drivers.
  • Premises Liability and Slip and Fall Cases
    It’s all fun and games until someone slips and falls. Sometimes it’s just not your fault, and there is no way you could have avoided the fall. In cases like these you may be able to take legal action against the owner or the person responsible for the accident.
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  • Is There Any Recourse for Passengers on Commercial Jetliners that Crash?
    Even though you may never be involved in an aviation crash or mishap, it pays to be informed as to your rights when traveling on a commercial carrier.
  • Recent Citations Against Pennsylvania Contractors
    The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently fined two Pennsylvania companies for repeated safety violations that endangered employees. Penn Stucco Systems, Inc. was given citations for one serious and four repeat violations; BC Stucco and Stone is facing citations for three willful, two repeated, and two serious violations.
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    In light of the two large sum awards recently settled for talcum powder cancer lawsuits, many women who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer are now asking themselves if the powder they used could be the culprit in their diagnosis. A verdict against Johnson & Johnson awarded $55 million to a woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using the talcum powder the company produces for her feminine hygiene.
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    Slip and Fall Injuries Say you slip on the bottom step in the stairwell at the mall and fall over, landing on your knees. There was a puddle you didn’t see in the dark stairwell. It hurts, but you get over it. Three weeks later, you wake up with agonizing back pain.
  • 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.

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 - 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

Publications Regarding Personal Injury




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