All lawyers study tort law in law school. Tort law covers the legal wrongs that people and businesses commit that cause harm to another, resulting in damages.
Most personal injury cases fall under tort law. But not all injury lawyers will take all personal injury cases. Some lawyers focus their practices on certain types of cases, like car accidents or medical malpractice.
Below, learn about tort law and the types of cases that personal injury lawyers may handle for injured clients.
Overview of Tort Law
In some ways, the definition of tort law depends as much on what it does not cover as what it does cover.
Tort law is not the same as criminal law, which describes all of the wrongful acts that the government can punish a person or business for committing.
Tort law does not punish those who commit tort offenses. Instead, it seeks to compensate the injured parties.
Suppose that you accidentally hit someone with your car. This act might constitute negligence, allowing the injured person to sue you. But it would probably not qualify as a crime unless you broke a criminal law, like committing a hit-and-run when you caused the accident.
Tort law is also different from contract law and property law. People with contractual or property ownership interests can harm each other. But their rights stem from the existing contract or property relationship. Torts rely on a legal duty to refrain from injuring each other.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
Personal injury cases fall into three broad categories:
Intentional torts require the injured person to prove that the wrongdoer intended to perform the action that caused the injury. The intentional tort of battery requires the victim to prove intentional harmful contact. Thus, someone who was sexually assaulted could sue for battery.
The intent only applies to the act itself. The victim does not need to prove that the perpetrator intended the consequences of the action. If someone throws a cup at you and hits someone else, the person who got hit can sue for battery.
Conversely, if you were handing a cup to someone and it slipped and smashed their toe, you did not commit battery because it wasn’t intentional.
Most personal injury cases are based on negligence. Negligence happens when someone injures you unintentionally. But not every unintentional injury will support a negligence claim. You must prove that the person who injured you knew or should have known they were doing something that a reasonably prudent person would not do.
Suppose that you get into a car accident after a distracted driver ran a red light and hit your car. You can probably sue for negligence because the other driver knew or should have known the dangers of distracted driving.
Some activities are so dangerous that the person conducting the activity bears liability for all injuries regardless of their intent.
For example, California imposes strict liability on manufacturers of defective products. The state also holds anyone who keeps wild animals strictly liable for injuries caused by those animals.
Examples of Cases Personal Injury Lawyers Handle
All personal injury cases fall into these three categories, including:
California uses a fault-based system of auto insurance. After car accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and bicycle accidents, the victims must file an insurance claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver to recover injury compensation.
To win the case, the injured people must show that the driver who caused the accident acted negligently (or intentionally, in some cases).
Truck accidents usually leave victims with more options to pursue negligence claims. Truck accidents can result from more than just negligent driving.
Some examples of entities you might sue after a truck accident include:
- Trucking companies, for negligent hiring, retention, or drug testing
- Trucking companies, for negligent training or supervision
- Shippers and loaders, for negligent loading of the truck
- Truck garages, for negligent repair and maintenance of the truck or trailer
Additionally, the trucking company may bear vicarious liability for negligent driving by the truck driver. This means that you will sue the driver’s employer for negligent actions of the driver that happened during the course of their employment.
Doctors, dentists, and hospitals must provide reasonable medical care. If a healthcare provider fails to meet the professional standard of care, you can sue for negligence.
Examples of medical malpractice include:
- Diagnosis and non-diagnosis errors
- Treatment errors
- Medication mix-ups
- Errors in getting informed consent
Medical malpractice cases often require a detailed understanding of medicine and medical procedures. Some lawyers will consult medical experts and professionals to help build a medical malpractice case. Not every injury lawyer handles medical malpractice cases.
Owners and occupiers of premises in California must keep their premises reasonably free of hazards. If they fail to do so, you can sue them for negligence.
Some grounds to sue for premises liability include:
- Negligent security
- Failure to identify and repair hazards
- Failure to warn of hazardous conditions
- Failure to prevent guests from entering a dangerous area
Premises liability cases may involve the owner of the premises, its tenant, or its property management company. You will sue the entity that was responsible for the area where the accident happened.
California imposes strict liability on dog owners for injuries caused by dog attacks. This means the dog owner must pay damages for unprovoked dog bites to anyone who was on public property or legally on private property when they were attacked.
Under strict liability, the dog owner must pay these damages regardless of the dog’s history of viciousness or the efforts the dog owner took to restrain the dog.
Finding an Injury Lawyer for Your Personal Injury Case
Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations to new clients. You should speak to a few different lawyers before choosing one for your case.
Not every injury lawyer will handle every type of case, and even those who will take your case may lack the experience to get you the compensation you deserve.