According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute [personal injury | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)], personal injury is defined as “an injury… to the body, mind or emotions”. Personal injury law is a provision allowing an injured person to file a lawsuit in court to legally recover for all losses they suffered due to an accident or incident. This article will discuss the basics of personal injury law.
The fundamental purpose of the personal injury system is to grant the injured person financial compensation to ‘make them whole’ after suffering harm caused by someone else’s negligent or intentional conduct.
There exist several different situations whereby the personal injury rules apply. Some of these include the following:
- Accidents – A Personal injury occurs whereby a person acts negligently and, as a result of their negligent actions, causes harm to another person in an accident. Examples of personal injury law accidents include car accidents or negligently failing to keep a store clean.
- Defective products – Personal injury rules come into play when vehicle parts, consumer products, medical devices, or other products are defective or unreasonably dangerous. If such a product harms anyone, they can seek legal recourse through a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer.
- Defamation – When defamatory statements made by one result in harm to another, the victim may file for legal recourse by way of a personal injury lawsuit.
- Intentional acts – When an individual’s intentional conduct results in harm to another person, such as an assault, personal injury laws are applicable.
A common question asked with regards to personal injury law is who makes the personal injury laws. Most of the laws are based on very old common law rules. The term common law comes from laws that judges make; these are different from most laws currently passed by way of bills and statutes.
Common law stems from when, in certain case, appeals court judges hear a case and decide on it, and decide to officially publish their opinion; their decision on the case becomes precedent on all other state courts lower than the court where the case was heard. Thus, the different courts are bound by the decision made on such a case and must apply it–hence the term common law. However, it must be noted that common law can differ from one state to the next. The personal injury rules are not the same across the country.
Other pieces of law that have been a source of personal injury laws include statues passed into law by legislatures. For example, legislatures passed worker’s compensation laws; these directly affect all work-related injuries and create a system outside the scope of personal injury laws, making worker’s compensation the sole remedy against an employer for work injuries. The legislature also passed laws to allow someone to sue when a loved one dies, but again there are strict statutory rules that govern how the process works.
Another state law that shapes personal injury laws is that of the statute of limitations. By definition, the statute of limitations [Statute of limitations | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)] is a law that limits or “bars claims after a certain period passes after an injury”. Therefore, a personal injury claim may have to be filed within two to six-years of the accident, depending on the state. California is generally two years for an adult. Sometimes there are grace periods for the victim to file their claim from the date of the incident or discovery of the injury.