In the legal sense, personal injury is a type of tort or civil wrong where harm is caused to one individual because another individual failed to use reasonable care. Personal injury law overlaps quite a bit with litigation law. The law recognizes a tort as grounds (legal reasons) to sue the offender in order to recover for losses caused by an injury or other type of harm, including psychological. This is referred to as recovery for damages and may involve expected future losses in addition to actual present losses. Some of the damages one may sue for are reasonable medical expenses, property damages, pain and suffering, loss of earnings capacity, emotional distress, loss of consortium or companionship, and legal costs and attorney fees. The main goal of tort law to make the injured party whole again and to discourage others from committing the same offense.
With personal injury law, liability is a key factor. Liability is determined by showing that the individual who caused the harm did so because of a failure to exercise reasonable care. Further, it must be shown that it was foreseeable that this failure could result in the injury or harm that did occur to the other party. A finding of reckless or negligent action may result in a judgment of liability. There are various defenses to a claim of liability. For example, if the injured party knew that the activity in which he was engaged when he was injured was dangerous, the other party may assert assumption of the risk, claiming that the injured party bears all the responsibility for his injury. Other defenses are pre-existing condition and intervening causes.
Personal injury law is extremely complicated and the subject of much debate. There are many critics actively seeking tort reform in an effort to decrease these types of lawsuits, as well as the amount of damages that may be recovered and the contingency fees attorneys may charge. A contingency fee works on the principal that the attorney only gets paid if the case is won and damages are recovered. The contingency fee is based on a percentage of the recovery, rather than an hourly rate.
Personal injury or tort law generally makes one think of lawsuits. However, many of these cases never proceed to court. More frequently an out-of-court settlement is sought to resolve the issue. This is much more expedient than a lengthy, costly civil court trial. However, when a settlement cannot be reached, the parties usually must proceed to a state court, and the judgment may then be appealed to the applicable appellate courts. Many jurisdictions have small claims courts which hear personal injury cases wherein a small recovery amount is sought, which falls under a set threshold. Although less common, federal courts may hear some personal injury cases as well. Either federal or state courts may preside over class action suits.
Other subsets of personal injury law include Slip and Fall, Car Accident, Medical Malpractice, Product Liability, and Catastrophic Injury.