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?

    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

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  • 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

  • Rhode Island's Push to Prevent Wrong-Way Auto Accidents
    Wrong-way auto accidents are some of the most serious types of collisions that occur on Rhode Island's highways. Seeing a vehicle traveling the wrong way and hurtling toward oncoming traffic at a high rate of speed can be terrifying. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), wrong-way accidents on divided highways are far more likely to result in deadly or serious injuries than any other type of car accidents.
  • Performance of California Nursing Home Chains
    Many nursing home chains in California have been shown to underperform when it comes to quality-of-care, staffing, and inspection measures.
  • Too Often, Medical Malpractice Due to Misdiagnosis Goes Unreported
    People who are injured as a result of medical negligence are entitled to seek compensation through a lawsuit. However, in the vast majority of medical malpractice cases, a lawsuit is never filed. In fact, in the case of misdiagnosis – one of the most common types of medical errors – the patient may not be aware that a mistake occurred, and the error itself may go unreported.
  • Xarelto Side Effects Leading to Legal Effects
    Even though Xarelto is a new drug on the market, the negative side effects have grown greater than those from Pradaxa. Both of these drugs have experienced bleeding issues with consumers because they are anticoagulants. The only difference between the legalities of the two drugs is that a lot of Pradaxa's cases have been settled while Xarelto's cases are just getting started and are unfortunately, firing up.
  • Case Digest of Burton v. Rhode Island
    The Rhode Island Supreme Court held that a 17-year old trespasser on boarded up property who received sulfuric acid burns could not recover against the landowner under the attractive nuisance doctrine, because he appreciated the risk of his reckless actions. Burton v. Rhode Island, 80 A.3d 856 (R.I. 2013).
  • Whistleblower Failure-of-Care Claim Settled for $38 Million
    Recently, a whistleblower failure-of-care claim was settled against a nursing home chain for $38 million. Even nursing home abuse can be stopped with whistleblowing.
  • Is a Truck Responsible for a Car Wreck Caused by Something that Falls Off the Moving Truck?
    If you drive a car, you’ve probably seen it happen (or you’ve seen the aftermath). A mattress, a piece of furniture, a chunk of metal, a huge box or some other large object falls off a moving truck (or the object is lying on the side of the road). What happens when the stuff that fell off the truck hits a car or a pedestrian or a bicyclist, causing a wreck and injuries? Is the truck responsible?
  • Protecting Yourself from Recalls When Used Car Shopping in California
    Consumers must be aware when shopping for vehicles that there are numerous vehicles that have had parts recalled that may not have received repairs. Car manufacturers like General Motors have issued recalls that affect nearly 25 million vehicles. Consumers must get informed about recalls when car shopping in order to avoid injury from car accidents related to defective parts.
  • Back Injuries from Automobile Accidents
    Back injuries differ in type and severity. Some car wreck victims suffer minor back injuries. For example, if a victim was stopped at a red light and another driver slowly rolled into his car, the victim might experience soreness for a few days. Other car accident victims are not so lucky.
  • Illegal Evictions of Elderly Nursing Home Residents
    Nursing homes can't evict elders based on ending Medicare coverage, lack of long term beds, or refusal to readmit after a hospital stay.
  • 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


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