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Humans have experienced personal injuries since the beginning of time. Although there is not any proof of legal systems in prehistory, experts have found connections between personal injury law today and in ancient history. Many people have heard the following statement: “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.”

This quote reigned in ancient history—this principle states that a person who injures another must be penalized in an equal way. In ancient times, this quote was likely interpreted literally and resulted in physical harm to those who have harmed others. Today, this quote has a less physical interpretation. Instead of seeking to physically harm those that caused harm to others, today’s personal injury law aims to recover the value of the victim’s injury in monetary compensation.


In Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, there was not a profession similar to the lawyers we have today; however, plaintiffs were allowed to bring someone to a trial to help them make their claim. Plaintiffs usually presented themselves in a trial with a person who was familiar with the laws of the time and who could effectively argue points in favor of the plaintiff. Although these companions were allowed in trials to help plaintiffs, they were considered volunteers and could not ask to be paid. Since these companions were getting paid even though it was prohibited, more and more people began offering their services—creating the profession of lawyers.


According to English common law, someone must be responsible for something that would not occur naturally. This due to the Latin phrase Res Ipsa Loquitur, which is roughly translated into “the thing itself speaks.” Based on Res Ipsa Loquitur, if a victim suffered an infection and died because a medical towel or sponge was left in his or her body, then the doctor who performed the surgery automatically has some responsibility.


With the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, there was an increase in workplace accidents and, subsequently, in personal injuries. However, the common workers did not have access to the legal system and could not sue or receive compensation. By the second Industrial Revolution of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, workers gained many rights that allowed them to pursue successful personal injury claims. These laws slowly evolved to the personal injury laws with which we are familiar today.


Although the victims of personal injury could file lawsuits against those responsible for their injuries, they could only be compensated for their physical injuries—mental and emotional injuries were not recognized or eligible for compensation. In fact, by 1932, negligence—which is the major component of today’s personal injury laws—was introduced and changed the path of personal injuries. With advancement in technology, personal injury lawyers began advertising their services on television and, subsequently, on the internet.


Personal injury law has slowly evolved into what we are familiar with today. The most common personal injury claims include slip and falls, defective products, wrongful death, medical malpractice, defamation, dog bites, assault and battery, and car accidents. In all of these claims, the main component continues to be negligence. Plaintiffs and lawyers must prove that the defendant’s negligent actions resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. In these claims, lawyers must prove negligence by establishing that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, a breach of duty caused an incident, and, subsequently, caused harm to the plaintiff. If lawyers cannot prove that negligence was a factor in the plaintiff’s claim, then it is unlikely that the victim will be eligible to receive compensation. Although this aspect of personal injury law has remained the same, the aspect of compensation has changed. Previously, plaintiffs could only be compensated for their physical injuries and their lost wages. Today, compensation expands much further. One of the main categories of compensation that plaintiffs are eligible to receive is pain and suffering. Pain and suffering compensation includes all non-economic damages, such as pain, suffering, humiliation, injury to reputation, loss of consortium, mental and emotional distress, and inconvenience.


Besides the changes to the compensation that plaintiffs are eligible to receive, many might argue that personal injury law has been at a standstill for a long time. However, personal injury law has constantly been changing to apply to advancements in society. For example, let us consider car accidents and personal injury claims. Before cars and other motorized vehicles were introduced into society, there were no car accident personal injury claims. The first fatal car accident can be traced back to the 1890’s. As cars became the norm and more people started driving, the occurrences of personal injuries due to car accidents increased. Today, personal injuries do to car accidents are one of the most common personal accident claims. This means that somewhere between the 1890’s and today, personal injury law had to adapt to the new norm—cars and car accidents.


With the recent popularity of ridesharing services, like Uber, personal injury law has had to adapt once again. Uber was introduced in 2010 and has steadily grown ever since. Every month, Uber provides approximately 40 million rides from one place to another. In the United States, there are more than 160,000 drivers giving Uber users rides on a daily basis. Like all other vehicles, Ubers are prone to car accidents. Car accidents involving Uber drivers and passengers cannot be treated like the everyday accidents—specifically because Ubers are hired to get passengers safely from point A to point B. Because of this, personal injury has expanded to ensure that the victims of Uber accidents have the right to file a lawsuit and receive the compensation they deserve. Uber is also changing its policies and providing its drivers insurance package that would protect drivers during accidents—including medical expenses and property damage. According to an article posted by Fortune, Toyota is developing a self-driving shuttle for Uber and other major companies. Without a doubt, the introduction of autonomous shuttles into Uber’s ridesharing service will create an opportunity for personal injury law to expand and adapt once again.


As things continue to change in our society, personal injury law will continue to change as well. Personal injury lawyers are some of the most versatile individuals; they can apply their legal knowledge to all types of personal injuries, even if there has never been a claim about that type of injury before. Although personal injury law can appear to be stagnant, it is ever-changing and evolving along with the rest of society.