Personal injury cases arise under different situations and cover a wide variety of injuries. Personal injury cases are based on tort law. A tort is a civil wrong that causes an injury or harm to another person. State statutes and common law have created the law of torts. State statutes may define a tort and limit the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover. However, the law as it has evolved over time through judge-made law, also known as the common law, generally applies to the law of torts.

Personal Injury and the Law of Torts

While some torts can result in criminal prosecution and imprisonment, the primary goal is to award damages to the person injured and to discourage others from harming others in the same manner. A person may receive a damages award for present and future losses, including those losses incurred through reasonable medical and hospital expenses, loss of earning capacity, harm to marital relationships, and physical and emotional pain and suffering. In addition, if an intentional tort is committed, the court may award punitive damages, or a monetary award to punish the defendant. Attorneys’ fees are also sometimes awarded if allowed by a statute.

There are a wide range of torts that the law recognizes, including trespass, assault, battery, negligence, products liability, defamation, wrongful death, professional malpractice, and malicious prosecution, to name a few. There are three classifications for torts: intentional torts (those actions done intentionally); negligence (actions done without intent); and strict liability (liability for the manufacture and sale of defective products).

An intentional tort occurs when a deliberate action is taken that injures another person or his property. Intent is shown when the tortfeasor (a person committing the tort) knew or should have known that his actions would result in harm. A negligent tort occurs when the tortfeasor’s actions are unreasonably dangerous. Examples of common law negligent torts are automobile accidents, slip and fall, negligent infliction of emotional distress, failure to provide proper medical care, animal bites, asbestos contamination, and nursing home neglect.

Strict liability torts involve activities that are inherently dangerous. Strict liability does not depend upon the tortfeasor’s intent or degree of care. Some activities are so dangerous that the law creates total responsibility for any resulting harm in the person undertaking the act. Examples of strict liability are the manufacture and sale of drugs, the manufacture and sale of a defective product, or the failure to warn a consumer of a dangerous product.

How Personal Injury Cases Proceed

A personal injury case begins with the person who is harmed (the plaintiff) bringing a civil lawsuit against the person or company that caused the injury (the defendant). Many cases can be settled before going to trial. Both sides may choose or be required to submit the case to arbitration or mediation. The case is filed with the court in the jurisdiction where the action causing the injury occurred or where the parties are located. If the parties are located in two different states and the damages sought exceed $75,000, a suit may be brought in federal court instead of state court.