What Is Personal Injury Law?

Learning about one of the most prevalent areas of tort law

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on April 5, 2023

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Personal injury law, sometimes referred to as tort law, allows you to recover damages for serious injury or injuries caused by the responsible party’s intentional or careless actions. This can be physical or property damage. If you want to sue someone for something other than a breach of contract, you are likely considering bringing a personal injury claim.

Whether you’re open to settling or determined to go to court, you will want to understand the law surrounding personal injury cases; you may find it beneficial to speak with an experienced lawyer to help you evaluate your case.

A successful personal injury lawsuit can help cover stressful costs like medical bills. The following is designed to help you understand the basics of common personal injury cases, so you can feel confident seeking legal advice from personal injury attorney.

What You Need To Know

  • Tort law—a fancy term for the area of law that deals with the wrongful acts that lead to civil liability—includes the theories of negligence, strict liability, and intentional actions that cause harm to someone else.
  • In real life, these cases can arise from anything from slip and fall accidents, motor vehicle accidents, dog bites, intentional acts, etc.
  • While the specific state laws of each area of personal injury law can vary, some guiding principles are applicable in most jurisdictions.
  • Still, it is best to speak with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.
  • An experienced attorney or law firm can provide essential legal advice on the state of your personal injury lawsuit and whether it’s impeded by factors such as a statute of limitations.


If you bring a personal injury case based on an accident that harmed you or a loved one, you will likely make a negligence claim.

A basic negligence claim is filed when there is a duty of care that has been breached, and the harm suffered is the direct result of that breach. These claims include basic personal injury claims, medical malpractice, car accidents, and wrongful death.

The injured person (or, if deceased, their loved ones) will be required to show that the person who harmed them did not act the way a reasonable person would have performed under the circumstances and that their failure to act reasonably actually caused foreseeable harm. Injured persons need to demonstrate that the law recognizes the injury or harm suffered and that the legal system can make them whole or compensate for their pain and suffering.

Negligence tends to be very fact- and state-specific, so it will be helpful to talk to personal injury lawyers about what happened during free consultations with law firms.

Intentional Torts

An intentional tort is a purposeful act that causes harm. You may have a personal injury claim when an intentional tort causes an injury. The specifics of intentional torts can vary by state but tend to be similar. That said, you should always make sure your jurisdiction recognizes the type of intentional tort you are basing your claim on. The best way to do this is to speak with an experienced attorney who will know the specifics regarding your state’s personal injury laws and causes of action.

The following is a brief, non-exhaustive overview of common intentional torts resulting in personal injury.


In personal injury law, an assault happens when someone threatens to harm you. The threat must be believable, and the person must threaten to harm you immediately—not sometime in the future. Personal injury law can vary by state, but to recover for assault in court, you will generally have to show that the other person intended to “cause apprehension of harmful or offensive contact” and that you believed that the contact would occur.


If someone intentionally causes harmful or offensive contact with you without your consent, they have likely committed a civil battery against you. The offensiveness of someone’s contact with you is determined based on an objective standard, meaning it must be contact that would be offensive to a reasonable person under the circumstances.

False Imprisonment

To prove that someone falsely imprisoned you, you will need to show they confined you without your consent and that you were aware of the confinement. To prove false imprisonment, you will need to show you were confined to a bounded area. This doesn’t necessarily mean someone put you in a cage. Someone who locks you in an area from which you could not reasonably escape has also confined you in a bounded area—for example, a department store restroom or changing room.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

When someone does something “extreme and outrageous” to you that causes you “severe and emotional distress,” you may have a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Some jurisdictions may require you to show that your emotional distress caused physical symptoms, such as illness.

Strict Liability

With strict liability, the person who caused your harm is liable for their actions regardless of their mental state or intent. In personal injury law, there are three situations where you or your lawyer may choose to pursue strict liability instead of negligence: possession of certain animals, abnormally dangerous activities, and strict products liability.


In some circumstances, if an animal hurts you, the animal’s owner may be strictly liable for your injuries. The specifics of strict animal liability vary by state. Still, you can usually use strict liability in situations where someone owns a wild animal or a dangerous dog known to attack people. Learn more about animal bite liability law.

Abnormally Dangerous Activities

An abnormally dangerous activity is one that is not performed by a significant part of the community and presents a high risk of harm even when everyone involved is using reasonable care. Storing toxic chemicals and using explosives to break down rocks are common examples of abnormally dangerous activities. The damage caused by these kinds of activities can be significant, so if abnormally dangerous activities harm you, it’s vital to seek medical care.

Product Liability

There are different theories of products liability you can use if you were harmed by a product, each of which has specific rules about you can be held liable. Strict liability is available when the product is defective. You will not need to prove that the manufacturer was careless or intended to create a defective product. Learn more about products liability law.

Common Questions for a Personal Injury Attorney

Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney.

  1. What do I do if I was injured by someone else in a motor vehicle accident?
  2. What do I do if I suffer dog bites from a neighbor’s pet?
  3. How do I prove that a defective product caused my injuries?
  4. What kind of compensation is available to injury victims?
  5. Am I the victim of medical malpractice?
  6. What is premises liability?
  7. How do you prove birth injury?
  8. What is the time limit for bringing a personal injury lawsuit?
  9. Can I seek punitive damages in my class action lawsuit?
  10. What do I do if my insurance company is unwilling to compensate me for my medical expenses arising out of a brain injury?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is crucial to approach the correct type of personal injury attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can search the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

You may want to consider looking for an attorney who represents plaintiffs in personal injury cases. As you know by now, there are many common types of personal injury cases. So you’ll want to find a personal injury lawyer with experience filing your specific type of civil lawsuit.

Why Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

The law surrounding personal injury can be complex, especially when medical records are involved. A lawyer can help you get your medical records and request documents from the person who harmed you. They can also help you understand the pros and cons of accepting a settlement offer or proceeding to trial.

A lawyer will anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them. They may even be able to help you avoid potential problems altogether. Your lawyer will also keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies in the appropriate amount of time, giving you one less thing to worry about.

What do I do next?

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