Legal Terms Explained: What’s a Personal Injury?

Personal Injury Claim

Most people are familiar with the general premise of a personal injury case: if another person hurts you, you can sue that person for a financial recovery of your damages.

While accurate enough, that’s a very general definition that does not take into account the many nuances of personal injury law. Civil claims and lawsuits involving plaintiffs who seek recompense for preventable damages can involve a wide range of situations, accidents, and types of injuries – and the underlying accidents may have many circumstances that can impact whether someone has a viable case.

However a personal injury case takes form, they must be based on an actual “personal injury” – a term not everyone would understand without a little research or help from experienced attorneys.

So, What Exactly is a “Personal Injury” Then?

The term “personal injury” most generally refers to the area of law in which victims of preventable accidents and injuries caused by another seek legal remedy from the party they claim is at fault. Personal injury claims are “torts,” which generally means they are civil legal actions filed over alleged “wrongs” – in other words, a negligent or wrongful act.


As civil claims, personal injury cases are resolved through an award of damages – financial compensation paid by the liable party (defendant) to the injured victim (plaintiff), as opposed to the sanctions and penalties which resolve criminal cases (i.e. fines, probation, jail time). Damages awarded in personal injury cases are intended to make victims “whole,” and commonly include losses such as:

  • Past and future medical expenses incurred by victims;
  • Lost income and lost future wages / diminished earning potential;
  • Physical pain and suffering;
  • Mental anguish, lost quality of life, and other emotional injuries.

There are of course many variances in damages recoverable by any victim, as each case is unique, and every victim’s losses different. Additionally, the basis of a personal injury claim may vary. In most cases, personal injury claims are based on standards of negligence – which means a person or entity failed to uphold their “duty of care” in a given situation.

Negligence, Fault & Liability

In terms of negligence, the “duty of care” a plaintiff claims to have been breached can also vary. Though it’s generally defined as a failure to exert reasonable care or caution, it can look quite different depending on the facts at hand. For example:

  • A motorist owes others around them a duty of care in that they must take reasonable measures to ensure the safe operation of their vehicle. Texting while driving, which any reasonable person would know increases crash risks, would therefore constitute a breach of a motorist’s duty, and create liability for any resulting injury.
  • A medical professional, be it a doctor or nurse, has an obligation to provide care in accordance to accepted standards of their profession. A failure to meet that standard – defined as the manner in which a reasonably skilled professional would act / be expected to act in the same or similar circumstances – could constitute a breach of duty, and create liability for damages.
  • A property owner, under premises liability laws, owes a duty of care to visitors, guests, and workers it accepts and / or invites onto its property (and in some cases other types of guests as well). Failing to reasonably address conditions that pose potential hazards to these guests, when property owners knew or should have known about said hazards, is a legal breach that also creates liability for preventable injuries that result.

Of course, personal injury claims can be filed on the basis of other claims apart from negligence. This includes cases involving strict liability, such as a defective product lawsuit, or even dog bite injuries, depending on the state you’re in. In some cases, personal injury claims may be filed as intentional torts, which can occur in the case of assault and battery.

Given the far-reaching scope of what a personal injury case may look like, the two most important elements in defining a personal injury are liability and damages. What’s more, these “damages” must be “actual damages.”

In order for there to be any valid civil injury claim, victims must have suffered real injuries and resulting losses (i.e. medical bills, lost work income, pain and suffering, etc.). If they don’t, there’s no “personal injury” in the eyes of the law, and no valid basis for a legitimate claim which seeks to hold another liable.

Types of Personal Injury Cases

Though we provided a few examples above, there are some common types of personal injury cases that can help you better understand what these claims entail:

  • Injuries resulting from a preventable motor vehicle accident (i.e. an auto collision, truck accident, or motorcycle collision);
  • Injuries resulting from defectively designed, manufactured, or marketed consumer products, medications, auto parts, or medical devices (product liability);
  • Work-related injuries, including traumatic injuries, occupational diseases caused by exposure, and injuries resulting from construction accidents;
  • Injuries which occur on another’s property, as a result of avoidable hazardous conditions (premises liability).

At The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., our award-winning lawyers have dedicated their professional careers to handling cases involving injured victims and wrongful death. With a targeted focus, we’ve cultivated the resources and experience to effectively handle the range of situations, standards, and types of cases that exist within this complex practice area.

We have also refined our collective mission to ensure clients receive the passionate support and guidance needed in the fight for the justice and compensation they deserve – even when corporations and insurance companies defending against these claims prioritize profits over people.

If you have questions about personal injury law, or would like to discuss a potential claim anywhere in New York City or the state of New York, our legal team is here to help. Call (212) 577-9325 or contact us online to request a free case evaluation.

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For over 40 years, David H. Perecman has distinguished himself as one of the leading personal injury lawyers in New York City, championing all types of personal injury cases including construction accidents, premises accidents, automobile accidents, and medical malpractice, along with employment discrimination, false arrest, and civil rights cases.