What Exactly is ‘Personal Injury’ According to the Law?

Personal injury is a legal term for any damage to the body, mind or emotions of a person, as opposed to property. In American jurisdictions the term is most commonly used to refer to a type of tort lawsuit in which the person bringing the suit, or “plaintiff,” has suffered harm to his or her body or psychological wellbeing. The harmful event that forms the basis of such a suit may be physical, like a car accident or a slip and fall; or it may be caused by a mental hardship, like slander or false imprisonment. Personal injury cases often involve some combination of the above.

A personal injury suit can be brought against anyone who causes you harm, whether intentionally or not. So, for example, if you are injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, you could sue the driver, the owner of the car (if it was someone other than the driver), or the bar that served the driver alcohol. If you are injured by a defective product, you could sue the manufacturer or retailer of the product. If you are harmed by someone’s negligence, like a doctor who fails to diagnose an illness, you could sue the person or entity responsible for your care.


The Three Type of Personal Injury Cases

There are three general types of torts that can give rise to a personal injury lawsuit: intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability.

Intentional Personal Injury

Intentional torts are those that are committed on purpose. Assault, battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress are all examples of intentional personal injury. In order to win an intentional tort case, the plaintiff must prove not only that the defendant’s actions caused him harm, but also that the defendant acted with the intention of causing him harm.

Negligent Personal Injury

Negligence is when someone’s careless actions lead to the harm of others. This is by far the most common type of personal injury lawsuit. To win a negligence case, the plaintiff must show that the defendant owed him or her a duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty by acting carelessly (this is called “negligence”), and that this breach of duty resulted in actual harm to the plaintiff.

Strict Liability

Strict liability means that even if someone did not act negligently or intentionally, he can still be held liable for damages if his actions resulted in harm. Trespassing onto someone’s property and getting bitten by his dog is an example of an action for which strict liability could apply. Some states also have laws imposing strict liability for injuries caused by defective products.


What Are “Damages” in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

If you win a personal injury lawsuit, the court will order the defendant to pay you “damages.” These are monetary compensation for the harm that he or she caused you. There are two general types of damages: compensatory and punitive.

Compensatory damages are meant to make the plaintiff “whole again” by putting him in the position he would have been in if the defendant had not committed the tort. This may include reimbursement for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. In some cases, compensatory damages may also include ” non-economic” damages like loss of companionship or loss of enjoyment of life.

Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and deter others from committing similar torts. They are awarded in addition to compensatory damages and are usually only given in cases where the defendant’s actions were particularly egregious.



Personal injury law covers a wide range of potential accidents and harms. If you have been injured due to someone else’s actions, whether careless or intentional, you may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. This is a general overview of personal injury law. If you have been injured, you should speak to an experienced personal injury attorney to get specific advice about your case. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options and guide you through every step of filing a personal injury claim.