A Brief History of Personal Injury Law


Can you imagine needing a personal injury lawyer hundreds of years ago? Or have you ever wondered how the legal system was built? The origins of personal injury law in the United States can be traced back to English common law (a body of law based on judicial decisions rather than codified statutes). Within common law, the concept of torts emerged. Torts are civil wrongs that result in harm to individuals or property and can give rise to a legal claim for damages. Personal injury cases fall under the category of tort law. In this article, we’ll provide a historical overview of personal injury laws as well as share the story of a landmark case that led to the development of negligence laws within modern tort law.

Personal Injury Law Origins

Under common law, there was a recognition of the need to compensate individuals who had suffered harm due to the actions or negligence of others. Courts developed principles and rules to determine liability and award damages to injured parties. As the American colonies were established, they inherited and adapted English common law principles. Common law relies heavily on legal precedent, which means that decisions made in earlier cases serve as a guide for future cases. This allowed for the development of consistent principles and rules in personal injury cases over time. One key doctrine that emerged from common law was the doctrine of contributory negligence. Under this doctrine, if an injured party was found to be even slightly at fault for their injuries, they could be barred from recovering any damages from the party primarily at fault.

Personal Injury Law Origins

Evolution of Personal Injury Laws

Over time, the harshness of contributory negligence rule became apparent as critics argued that it often resulted in unjust outcomes. This led to a gradual shift towards the adoption of comparative negligence laws in many states, allowing injured parties to recover damages even if they were partially at fault. The early reliance on common law principles, the development of tort law, and the adaption of legal concepts from English common law all laid the foundation for the modern personal injury law systems in the U.S.

Famous Personal Injury Lawsuits

Whether it was the McDonald’s customer suing for spilling hot coffee on herself or Erin Brokovich taking down Pacific Gas & Electric, most people are familiar with at least one famous personal injury case that made headlines. But how many people know about the 1932 British case of Donoghue vs. Stevenson, and why was it so significant? Keep reading to find out.

In 1928, May Donoghue and a friend went to a café in Paisley, Scotland. Her friend ordered an ice cream float for Donoghue. The ice cream float was served in a dark, opaque bottle. Donoghue consumed some of the drink and found a decomposed snail in the bottle. She suffered from shock and gastroenteritis as a result of consuming the contaminated beverage.

The central legal issue in Donoghue v. Stevenson was whether May Donoghue could sue the manufacturer, David Stevenson, for negligence, even though she did not have a contract with him. The House of Lords, the highest appellate court in the United Kingdom at the time, ruled in favor of May Donoghue. This ultimately established the concept of duty of care owed by manufacturers and other producers to consumers, setting a significant precedent for product liability and personal injury law.

In essence, this case shifted the legal landscape for personal injury laws, recognizing the importance of protecting consumers and ensuring that those who manufacture or produce goods are accountable for the quality and safety of their products. It marked a significant step in the evolution of modern tort and consumer protection law.

Personal Injury Lawsuits

Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyers

Living in the 21st century certainly has its advantages. A quick online search will give you a list of every personal injury attorney anywhere you need one. If you’re in need of legal advice, our personal injury lawyers are just a phone call away. Founded in 1998 in Los Angeles, Yepremyan Law Firm is consistently ranked as one of the top law firms in California, in addition to having nationwide recognition. Contact our office to book your free consultation today.

*No Legal Advice Intended. This website includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. These materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. Please consult an attorney for legal advice pertaining to any particular legal matter. Use of and access to this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader, user, or browser and Yepremyan Law Firm and any of its attorneys, employees, or associates.


Skip to content