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

    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

  • Do I Have a Case?
    If you have been wronged by another, you may consider pursuing a legal claim against the person who harmed you. However, before taking this action, you may consider whether your claim is viable. Some considerations in making this assessment include:
  • Evaluating the Value of a Case
    When considering pursuing a particular case, a potential plaintiff must determine whether the case is worth pursuing. While some clients feel that pursuing the case is necessary because of “principle,” unless the client has significant financial means to justify bringing forth a case that will yield a lower damage award than the associated legal expenses, making this determination is usually a financial decision.
  • Why Is My Lawyer Not Taking My Case
    It is not uncommon for a person to interview multiple lawyers before deciding which one to hire. Just as clients may interview lawyers, lawyers may conduct their own assessment of a case. Some of the factors that lawyers may consider when determining whether or not to take a case include:
  • Why You Need Uninsured Motorist Coverage in Massachusetts
    Drivers in Massachusetts are required by law to have auto insurance. But it’s not enough to insure oneself. Motorists also need to insure themselves against those who have no insurance or who are underinsured.
  • Social Media and Your Personal Injury Lawsuit
    It is second nature in this age of technology to post up-to-the-minute details of almost every facet of our personal lives. We share photos, experiences, observations and opinions. But when it comes to your personal injury lawsuit, you need to be very cautious about every piece of information you make public.
  • Don't Represent Yourself in a Personal Injury Case
    In any legal action, individuals have the right to represent themselves in court. But just because they can doesn’t mean they should. The notion is understandable. You’re facing a mountain of medical bills. Your injury has left you out-of-work and struggling to pay your mortgage. You can’t afford a lawyer, and even if you could, why should s/he get a cut of your compensation?
  • Civil Liability for Transmitting Sexually Transmitted Diseases
    With more and more people being infected with sexually transmitted diseases, more jurisdictions are beginning to recognize causes of action by infected individuals against their sexual partner who infected them. There are a variety of legal causes of action that may be implicated in this type of situation. However, different jurisdictions have different rules regarding these types of actions.
  • How to Calculate Damages in a Slander Case
    Slander occurs when a person makes an unprivileged false statement of fact that causes harm to that person or his or her reputation. Determining the amount of damages in a given slander case can help the plaintiff and lawyer determine the potential value of the case and if it is worth pursuing.
  • Statute of Limitations for Defective Medicines
    Sometimes after a person has taken certain medications, he or she discovers that this medicine has caused unanticipated medical issues. A person may be entitled to compensation for injuries caused by defective products. However, a person only has a limited amount of time in which to bring a lawsuit in order to recover.
  • What is Your Pain Worth?
    Before settling your claim, it is important that you investigate a fair and accurate value for your damages.
  • 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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