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.


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.

Personal Injury Case Handbook

Articles About Personal Injury Law

  • What to Do if the Person You Lent Your Car to Is in an Accident with your Vehicle
    A situation may arise in which you lend your vehicle to a family member, neighbor, friend or roommate. While you may agree to lend your vehicle to someone else, you likely do not anticipate that you will be legally liable for their actions. However, situations exist in which your insurance coverage will be utilized for a claim or in which you are legally liable for damages that result from this third party’s actions.
  • Texas Mother Alleges Denied C-Section Resulted in Birth Injuries and Death of Newborn
    A young Texas mother is seeking answers after her newborn suffered extreme birth injuries and died during the labor and delivery process. The 18-year-old mother went to the hospital earlier this month, just one week shy of her due date. After an "uneventful pregnancy", the mother and her family looked forward to the arrival of their newest family member. Unfortunately, the turn of events at the hospital would change their lives forever.
  • The Four Keepers: Four Things You Should Keep After You've Been Injured
    After you’ve been injured in a car accident (or other accident), the first thing you should do is make sure that everyone who needs medical treatment gets it. But once the dust settles, there are four things you should keep in order to make sure that when the time comes, the insurance company pays you what your case is worth.
  • HIV and STD Liability
    Given the most recent very public admission by Charlie Sheen, it might be helpful to explain the legal ramifications. HIV is an STD (a Sexually Transmitted Disease). Herpes, Gonorrhea, HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), Syphilis, and Hepatitis are also all STDs. In California, and in many other states, it is a crime to willfully infect another person with an STD.
  • Most Recent IVC Filter Lawsuit
    Learn why and how you can file an IVC Filter Lawsuit if you have had an Inferior Vena Cava Filter implanted in you or someone you know.
  • Benefits of Medical Care on a Lien Basis
    Even car accidents that cause only minor damage to vehicles can cause significant bodily harm. When injury does arise from another person's negligent act, it is critical that medical attention and documentation. But who is going to pay for all those doctor bills? More importantly, when are they going to pay? Lawsuits take time to prosecute and can leave doctor bills piling up! Fortunately, many doctors will provide treatment on a lien basis.
  • Compensation for Grief in Pennsylvania
    When an individual dies due to the negligence or wrongful act of another person or a group of people, certain family members of the deceased can recover damages in Pennsylvania courts.
  • New Ruling on Impairment Rating Evaluation
    A September, 2015 ruling by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has changed the ways an Impairment Rating Evaluation (IRE) will be used in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation cases.
  • Determining Liability in a Truck Accident
    The process of determining liability following a truck accident can be much more complicated than in other accident cases.
  • Proving Liability
    Proving your case when it comes to negligence in a defective product can be a tough task.
  • 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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