Many people today believe the history of personal injury law and claims must be a fairly short and modern one. After all, claims against drunk drivers, faulty appliances, and medical malpractice must be fairly modern occurrences, right? Well, actually, personal injury law and lawyers have roots stretching back much farther than our parent’s generation. In fact, the origins of personal injury law can be traced all the way back to the first civilizations.
The famed decree of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was popularly practiced in Ancient Mesopotamia and was a law outlined by the Code of Hammurabi. Though often brutal in its execution and less civilized than most modern laws — this law offering reciprocity to the perpetrators of crimes was among the first personal injury laws in human civilization. The law emerged as a means of dealing with negligence or wrongdoing by one party against another — a primitive form of today’s system.
Later, in Ancient Greece and Rome, the role of lawyers in the process of aiding those suffering personal injury expanded. Traditionally, plaintiffs in a case were allowed to bring a companion to to trial to help them plead their grievances against another party. These companions often had familiarity with legal proceedings and the laws of their civilization, and thus served as valuable aids to plaintiffs. Though these companions were forbidden from accepting monetary compensation for their services, the rule was rarely enforced, and thus the profession of lawyers began to emerge. By the middle of the 1st century AD, the Emperor had officially abolished this law, and Lawyers expanded even further.
Evolution of the Field
By the fall of the Roman Empire, lawyers had become amongst the most respected, educated and well-paid members of society, cementing their role as we know them today. In the sphere of personal injury law, by the 17th century, most plaintiffs could receive compensation in a court of law for any wages lost by personal injury. The growth of the Industrial Revolution and Progressive movements in the early 20th century, such as the one led by Theodore Roosevelt, led to more expansion and more action taken to protect individuals from negligent corporations and industries. Personal injury lawyers eventually sparked the passage of reforms such as Worker’s Compensation in the United States, expanding individual’s rights even further.
Contemporary Innovations & The Future
Personal injury law has not overwhelmingly changed since the mid 20th century. Nevertheless, alterations allow plaintiffs to now receive damages for “pain and suffering” as a result of personal injury. And while the modern field of personal injury lawyers has sometimes been seen as sparking frivolous lawsuits, many personal injury suits have caused marked reform by companies to enact new safety protocols to protect consumers. As a result of many lawsuits resulting from deficient car designs or unanticipated side effects of medications, companies have taken drastic steps to improve air bag standards or testing procedures for drugs before products can enter the marketplace.
The future of personal injury law is less clear than our past, but despite its sometimes less than stellar perception, the future of the profession promises to continue to protect individuals and promote the safety and prosperity of our society.
Matt Kyle is an attorney at Kyle Law Firm based in the New Braunfels, Texas area. Receiving his training at the University of Texas School of Law, Kyle has been named a Texas “Super Lawyer” by Texas Monthly Magazine, and voted “Best Attorney” in New Braunfels, TX and San Marcos, TX.
Photo Credit: edenpictures (CC BY 2.0)
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