If you have suffered a personal injury and have found yourself in need of a personal injury lawyer’s services, you know how invaluable it can be to have a reliable and professional law firm. Have you ever wondered how we got to where we’re at in this area of the law, though? As it turns out, personal injury law goes far back to ancient times.
Ancient Times: The Code of Hammurabi
Personal injury law can be traced back to the rule of King Hammurabi of Babylon. His reign lasted from 1792-to 1750 BC in what is today the country of Iraq. He instituted the Code of Hammurabi, a text compiled towards the end of his reign that contained 282 legal edicts for his subjects. These legal precedents were some of the earliest examples of laws of retribution. Punishments were harsh (mostly death), but this was also one of the earliest examples of the principle of being considered innocent until proven guilty. It also included a law that validated the right of both parties to present evidence at trial. Law 196 pertains specifically to personal injury, stating the consequences and restitution owed for destroying an eye or breaking a bone.
The Mosaic Law
The Mosaic Code or Mosaic Law provides the foundation for much of our civil and criminal justice system today. Found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and found in the Torah, Mosaic Law continues to guide both Christian and Jewish communities. The legal system created in the Mosaic Law was based on human dignity and individual equality in the eyes of the law and the eyes of God. It had some overlap with the Code of Hammurabi. Both considered alleged criminals to be innocent until proven guilty, and both were regarded as laws of retribution. In Mosaic Law, the accused had the right to confront their accuser, testify on their own behalf, and appeal convictions. They were also not subject to double jeopardy.
In 15th century Continental Europe, Canon Law reigned supreme. Monarchs and the Roman Catholic church were the ones who decided laws and regulations. Often, the rich and powerful had preference over the masses of poor peasants and middle-class burghers. As you can imagine, that would have made it very difficult for the common people to receive justice for injuries suffered at the hands of those of higher rank. However, Canon Law was not uniform throughout Europe. For instance, the Free Imperial Cities of the Holy Roman Empire enjoyed great personal liberty and individual protections.
English Common Law
While Continental Europe had Canon Law, the Kingdom of England had English Common Law. This system was based on past and precedent rulings. It provided greater equality since the system, not the legislators, interpreted the law.
Res Ipsa Loquitur was one of the key concepts in English Common Law. Meaning “the thing speaks itself,” it stated in essence that the occurrence of an accident without any natural phenomenon causing it must be due to the fault of a person who therefore must be held responsible. It consisted of four elements:
- The injury doesn’t usually happen without negligence.
- The damage is caused by something within the defendant’s control.
- The plaintiff did not voluntarily cause the accident.
- The defendant’s explanation is unable to explain the plaintiff’s injury.
Under English Common Law, plaintiffs that had suffered a financial loss due to another’s actions were compensated, not unlike how it is today. English Common Law directly informed the United States’ legal system and remains in effect throughout the country.
The Progressive Era
The years surrounding the Progressive Era in the US saw considerable changes in the way personal injury law was practiced. Before the Progressive Era, which ran from 1896-to 1916, it was tough for employees to win cases against their employers for worksite injuries. Even as things changed, non-economic damages, like suffering, went uncompensated. In 1932, shortly after the end of the Progressive Era, Donoghue vs. Stevenson changed the way personal injury law was handled. The outcome was that negligence and product liability became relevant to personal injury cases. The production of goods had exploded thanks to the events of the first and second Industrial Revolutions, therefore this decision was critical.
US Federal Rule 11
Lawsuits became far more common in the years following Donoghue vs. Stevenson. Unfortunately, as is the case today, some personal injury claims were frivolous, with the plaintiffs seeking an easy payout rather than fair compensation for personal injuries. The year 1997 saw US Federal Rule 11 come into effect. This rule stated that call papers must be signed by an attorney, filed for the proper purpose, the legal arguments must be reasonable such that they have a chance of holding up in court, and the facts must be accurate or able to be proved by evidence. Additionally, it laid out sanctions like paying the opposition’s legal fees or a penalty to the court as a reprimand for those filing frivolous lawsuits.
Personal injury law has come a long way since the times of King Hammurabi. There have been plenty of changes over the ages, but it’s interesting to see that some principles have remained consistent. If you’ve suffered a personal injury and are seeking injury compensation, the one thing you need to remember is that having a personal injury attorney on your side is the best thing you can do to make sure your personal injury settlement is fair and just, based on the injury you’ve suffered. If you live in the Carolinas, then we can help you with that. We specialize in getting our clients their fair and proper share from personal injury incidents.