What Is Personal Injury Law?

A personal injury case is a legal dispute that arises after a person suffers harm from an injury where someone else might be legally responsible. A personal injury can result in a civil lawsuit or an informal settlement can be negotiated. Personal injury attorneys handle cases involving medical malpractice, dog bites, car accidents and any injury to a person that may be the fault of another.



There are three basic requirements for a personal injury claim: The responsible party was careless (negligent). For example, if a truck driver crashed into an innocent victim’s car because he ignored a stop sign, the truck driver, under the law, would be considered negligent.

The negligence caused personal injury. In the above example, if the innocent victim sustained a broken arm and severe headaches because of the crash, the truck driver’s negligence would be considered to have caused the personal injury.

The injury resulted in harm (compensatory damages). In the above example, if the innocent victim’s broken arm and headaches resulted in medical bills, lost wages, and/or pain and suffering, the injury would be considered to have resulted in compensatory damages (i.e., damages for which an injured party may be compensated).


“Personal injury” cases are legal disputes that arise when one person suffers harm from an accident or injury, and someone else might be legally responsible for that harm.  A personal injury case can become formalized through civil court proceedings that seek to find others legally at fault through a court judgment or, what is more common, such disputes may be resolved through informal settlement before any lawsuit is filed.

Formal Lawsuit: A formal personal injury case typically starts when a private individual (the “plaintiff”) files a civil “complaint” against another person, business, corporation, or government agency (the “defendant”), alleging that they acted carelessly or irresponsibly relating to an accident or injury that caused harm.

Informal Settlement: Most disputes over fault for an accident or injury are resolved through settlement among those personally involved, their insurers, and attorneys representing both sides.  A settlement commonly takes the form of negotiation, followed by a written agreement in which both sides forgo any further action and to resolve the matter through payment of an agreeable amount of money.



Plaintiffs have a limited time in which to file a lawsuit, called a “statute of limitations.”  This period usually begins when the plaintiff is injured or realizes the severity of their injuries.

Statutes of limitations vary from state to state.  They are established by state law and often vary by type of injury.  For instance, the statute of limitations for injuries to an individual in Virginia is two years, but five years for injury to personal property. As always, check with your attorney.



Unlike other areas of the law that find their rules in statutes, personal injury law has developed mostly through a body of court decisions, and in treatises written by legal scholars.  Many states have taken steps to summarize the development of personal injury law in written statutes, but for practical purposes court decisions remain the main source of the law in any legal case arising from an accident or injury.




Look for a lawyer who has experience and a good record settling personal injury cases.

The website Avvo offers the following:

Top 10 tips for choosing a good personal injury attorney
  • Identify your needs.
  • Research several lawyers.
  • Make sure you feel a positive connection.
  • Notice whether the attorney seems caring and knowledgable.
  • Ask who will actually be working on your case.
  • Decide whether you can trust the attorney.
  • Beware of overblown promises.
  • Ask for their track record.
  • Come away with a meaningful action plan.
  • Make sure the paperwork is right before you sign it.

Some of the ways to find an attorney who specializes in personal injury include:

  • Ask your friends, family or business associates;
  • Call your state bar association.;
  • Look at legal websites like and



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Quotes of Wisdom

Lawsuit: A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.

~Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

What Lawyers Wish You Knew

“Looking for an attorney to represent you can be stressful. But when you approach one, take it seriously and be prepared. Have your story together, put your documents in order, and create a timeline of the major events. The more focused and organized you are, the more likely you’ll get the attention you deserve.”

–Yosef Peretz, owner of Peretz & Associates

“If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.”

— Louis D. Brandeis

“As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and if no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.”

– Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)

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