What Is Personal Injury Law?

Personal injury law is the body of civil law that allows individuals to bring a legal claim when they’re hurt because of the wrongful actions of someone else.

The purpose of personal injury law is to require the people who are responsible for an accident to pay for the damages that they cause.

Personal injury law aims to use money in order to compensate victims when they’re hurt because of another person’s negligent or intentional act.

Personal Injury Law Is Both Common Law and Civil Law

Personal injury laws come from both common laws and civil law.

Some states accept personal injury law as part of a long-standing tradition of fairness.

They create personal injury laws through court decisions.

Some states take the step of writing down their personal injury laws in state statutes.

A state may codify all of its personal injury laws, or it might write down only certain parts of personal injury law in order to make it clear how they want the law to be on those issues.

Personal Injury Law Is Not Criminal Law

Although personal injury law and criminal law may overlap, a personal injury case is not a criminal case.

A person who causes an injury may face both criminal charges and a civil personal injury suit.

An example of a personal injury case that may also be a crime is drunk driving.

There are key differences between a civil personal injury case and a criminal case.

The burden of proof is often different between criminal and civil cases.

The state brings charges in a criminal case while it’s up to the victim to initiate a personal injury case.

In addition, the damages available to the victim in a civil, personal injury case are more expansive than they are in a criminal case.

Personal Injury Law Is Based on Negligence, Recklessness or Intentional Conduct

Negligence, recklessness, and intentional conduct can all be grounds for personal injury liability.

Even strict liability can give rise to personal injury liability in product liability cases.

Most personal injury cases are based on negligence.


Negligence is a failure to be careful.

Negligence is based on how an ordinary person should behave in similar circumstances.

People don’t have to act perfectly or predict harm. Instead, the law looks at what’s reasonable in any given situation.


Acting recklessly means engaging in behavior that you know or should know is likely to result in harm.

It’s different than negligence because a person acting recklessly should know that their conduct is dangerous.

For example, a car accident may be the result of reckless or negligent conduct.

Intentional Conduct

Intentional conduct is behavior that hurts someone else on purpose.

An assault and battery is an example of intentional conduct.

Strict Liability

In limited circumstances, a person or business may be liable for an injury without any kind of carelessness.

Just the injury alone may be enough to expose the person or business to civil liability.

An example of strict liability may be manufacturing and selling a defective product.

What Do I Have to Prove to Win a Personal Injury Case?

To win a personal injury case based on negligence, the victim must prove four things: duty, breach, causation, and damages.

In short, the victim must show that someone else wasn’t careful enough in a way that caused their injuries.

First, the victim must show that the person responsible had a duty to act carefully in the situation.

For example, a driver has a duty to be careful when they drive, because they’re not the only one who can get hurt on the roads.

The victim must show how the other person breached their duty of care.

A person is only responsible for a personal injury accident if their actions are the cause of the accident.

If someone acts negligently and no one gets hurt, the negligent person isn’t liable to anyone for their actions.

A person only faces liability for a personal injury if their actions result in an accident with injuries.

Finally, the accident victim must prove what damages they have.

They must show what they want to recover in compensation along with evidence to verify their claims.

Examples of Personal Injury Cases

Some of the types of personal injury cases include:

  • Assault and battery
  • Car accidents
  • Boat accidents
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Defective product design
  • Defective product manufacturing
  • Failure to warn of dangers with a product
  • Medical malpractice
  • Defamation of character
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • Dog bites
  • Other types of accidents

Comparative Negligence and Contributory Negligence in Personal Injury Law

An accident may be more than one person’s fault.

Sometimes, even the victim of a personal injury accident may share responsibility for the accident.

Comparative negligence and contributory negligence are principles of personal injury law.

A person who is partially to blame for a personal injury accident may or may not be able to recover from their accident.

It depends on the laws in the state with jurisdiction over the case.

If a person is partially responsible for an accident, they may be able to recover a reduced amount of their total damages.

Comparative negligence and contributory negligence laws vary greatly between states.

If a defendant believes that a victim contributed to the accident, they must raise the question in their court pleadings and present the evidence as a defense in the case.

Who Practices Personal Injury Law?

Personal injury lawyers practice in all types of settings.

They work in large law firms in big cities, and they work in small and solo practice in small communities.

Personal injury lawyers also work as in-house counsel for corporations that might face frequent lawsuits.

Attorneys in the fieldwork to both bring and defend against personal injury cases.

Personal injury lawyers need a wide range of skills.

They must be skilled in civil procedure in order to carefully prepare pleadings and respond to actions from other parties.

They must have sound research and writing skills in order to prepare a trial brief and outline disputed issues to the court.

Attorneys who practice personal injury law must also effectively use discovery procedures in order to build the evidence on behalf of their clients.

Mediation is a common method of case resolution in personal injury cases.

Personal injury attorneys must be skilled in helping clients achieve a favorable result through mediation.

Mediation allows the parties to meet in a somewhat informal setting in order to discuss possibilities for resolving the case without a trial.

Attorneys need negotiation and case resolution skills in order to effectively mediate on behalf of their clients.

A personal injury attorney can build a sound career whether they practice in a small-firm or large-firm setting.

They must thoroughly know and understand civil procedure issues including jurisdiction, pleadings, and discovery.

When a case proceeds to trial, an attorney must be a skilled trial advocate for their client.

Why Become a Personal Injury Lawyer?

Whether you’re motivated by financial or personal reward, there are many reasons to practice personal injury law.

Personal injury lawsuits hold bad actors accountable for their behavior.

They encourage everyone in society to behave in a careful way.

They make products safer by using the legal process to motivate manufacturers to carefully design safe products and issue adequate instructions for the use of their products.

Personal injury law can also be financially rewarding.

In addition, lawyers who enjoy both technical procedure and trial advocacy might find the right balance in a personal injury practice.

It’s common for lawyers to practice personal injury law exclusively.

Small-firm lawyers and solo practitioners might practice only personal injury law, or they might handle injury cases as part of a broader practice that might include other types of civil litigation and other areas of law.

Personal Injury Lawyers Fight for Justice for Victims and Defendants

Personal injury law is civil law.

To succeed in the field, attorneys need a combination of civil procedure mastery, drafting and research skills, trial advocacy, and mediation skills.

A personal injury case may stem from intentional, reckless, or negligent conduct, and it may also come from strict liability in certain types of cases.

Attorneys evaluate claims, build evidence, draft legal documents, and zealously advocate for their clients in the realm of personal injury law.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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