Personal injury law, also sometimes referred to as tort law, gives persons who have been injured in an accident or other type of incident the right to file suit in the court of law against the responsible party and to collect damages. These damages are paid out in the monetary form in order to compensate for all losses that occurred as a direct result of the accident or incident, both immediately following the accident or incident, as well as in the future. The purpose of personal injury law is to make the plaintiff (or injured party) “whole again” after suffering losses of any sort as a result of the defendant (or responsible party’s) negligence or wrongdoings. This article will serve as a means by which to briefly cover the basics of personal injury law.
When Does Personal Injury Law Apply
There are a variety of scenarios in which personal injury law or tort law comes into play. Some situational examples include:
Accidents. Any situation where one party acts in a negligent manner and these careless actions result in harm being caused to another uninvolved party, is covered under personal injury law. Examples of accidents where tort law applies are slip and falls, car accidents, motorcycle accidents, and medical malpractice, among many others.
Defamation. Any instance where one party’s defamatory remarks result in harm being caused to another party’s reputation is covered under tort law.
Defective products. If a party suffers injury due to a defective product then the responsible party could be found liable without ever having been intentionally negligent.
Intentional acts. If one party’s intentional acts result in harm being caused to another party tort law applies. For instance, in the case of an assault and battery.
Personal Injury Law as Common Law
Personal injury law falls under the umbrella of “common law.” Common law refers to laws that are set in stone by way of precedent in previous judges’ decisions, as opposed to by a legislature, statute, or bill. In common law, once a judge has made a ruling in a case this ruling becomes ‘binding precedent’ for any similar cases following said decision in any courtroom ‘under’ the deciding judge. From there on out any judge ‘lower’ than the deciding judge is required to follow the decision and over time a body of common law is formed.
When it comes to commonality across the states as it refers to personal injury law rules, there is none. Since decisions vary from state to state, it is therefore expected that the precedent in personal injury law cases will vary across borders. That being said, there is something called The Restatement of Torts, which acts as a sort of guidebook for judges looking for guidance in making decisions on personal injury cases. This guidebook contains rulings from cases across the country and gives uneasy judges a sense of direction.
Common law is not the only source of personal injury law issues. In fact, many states have come together to form obligatory statutes along with other formal legislation that protects certain classes or areas of tort law. Take for example worker’s compensation. Worker’s compensation laws were essentially formed as the result of formal legislation, comprised of rulings regarding every previous work-related personal injury case. The result was a solution that remedied all cases involving on-the-job injuries – surely you have heard the phrase “workman’s comp” before.
In addition to worker’s compensation cases, another area of law that comes into play in personal injury cases is the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations sets a limit to the amount of time that injured parties can pursue a personal injury case after the incident occurred.
Personal Injury Cases 101
Since personal injury law follows common law, we cannot expect that any two cases will be exactly alike and so it makes understanding personal injury law a little more complicated. Though judges will follow precedent in rulings regarding similar cases, there will be unique circumstances in each case that will ultimately result in a unique ruling. That being said, there is a rather broad process in which one can expect any personal injury case will follow. That is:
The Plaintiff Is Injured. Any personal injury law case will begin with the plaintiff being injured as the result of the defendant’s wrongful acts or negligence. This includes many types of accidents, as previously stated, except for contractual breaches, which are covered under the area of contract law.
It is determined that the defendant breached their reasonable duties. This will depend on the situation of the case, but in an accident, there must be a breach of some reasonable duty. For example, physicians have a reasonable duty to act in a manner that best benefits their patients, and any person operating a motor vehicle has a duty to operate the machine in a safe and non-reckless manner.
Discussion of settlement. If it is determined and agreed upon by both parties that the defendant was in fact at fault for the plaintiff’s injury, then talks of the settlement will commence. If an agreement is reached of some sort of monetary compensation, then the case is settled, if not, it will continue to trial.