21 Jan The History of Personal Injury Law
The practice of personal injury protection can date back to ancient times. After all, it is human nature to seek justice for wrongdoing. However, our modern interpretation of personal injury law has a much more recent history. It was not until the start of the 20th century in which this field was regularly practiced. Even the first TV ad for a personal injury lawyer did not debut until 1979. Imagine a world without these! And even now, this area of law is continually evolving to keep pace with cultural and societal changes. In this article, we’ll take a look at how personal injury law came about and how it’s developed over the past century.
The early 1900s:
With the US Industrial Revolution, those who once managed the farming fields moved to the cities for work. And with the influx of mining, railroad, and factory jobs came more frequent and more severe injuries. The dangerous nature of these occupations and their combination of long hours, child labor, dangerous machinery, and very little regulation, led to tens of thousands of deaths and even more injuries each year. These dangers and tragic consequences sparked a drive for change. Several groups, including journalists and unions, advocated for these workers. Thus, employees began to sue employers to recover their damages and gain justice for such unsafe working conditions. This prompted the 1913 National Safety Council, which aimed to uncover problems and to create solutions for employees. The rate of accidents consequently diminished.
The 1920s and 1930s:
In these early years of the 20th century, personal injury law underwent several advancements. In this era of the automobile came more accidents and injuries, giving rise to personal injury claims. The country saw a surge in lawsuits along with two significant cases that brought about two foundational concepts in personal injury.
1932: Just a few years later, the Donoghue V. Stevenson case wherein the defendant fell ill after consuming a bottle of ginger beer that contained a dead snail, established the concept of negligence. The case set a standard of quality for manufacturers so to protect consumers from potential dangers.
The last decade of the century began with the founding of the non-profit Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. This was established to enhance the services available to victims of negligence. And just a few years after came one of the most iconic cases of personal injury to date. In 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck spilled a McDonald’s coffee on herself, resulting in 3rd-degree burns over six percent of her total body surface area and an eight-day stay in the hospital. In the wake of the accident, Liebeck brought a lawsuit against McDonald’s for $20,000. However, with the close of the case, she was awarded nearly three million in compensatory and punitive damages. Such high punitive damages drew angry attention and heated debate of whether or not it was justified. This personal injury case and the outrage it received is still discussed today.