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Civil Law: U.S. Personal Injury Torts

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In this chapter we discuss various types of civil law cases with a focus on personal injury torts. As the legal terminology in the civil law is very different from the terminology in criminal law, we spend time going over definitions to better understand the cases we present as examples of what roles psychologists play. For example, the person who brings the lawsuit is called the plaintiff (not the state as in criminal cases) and the person accused of causing harm is called the defendant (the same as in criminal cases). The case usually has two parts: (1) the liability or proof that the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff and caused (2) harm or damages by what they did or did not do. It is not enough just to assess the plaintiff’s damages but must also include the nexus or proximate cause of those damages. The burden of proof is different from criminal cases in that it only takes a preponderance of the evidence or 51% in most cases. In some civil cases, the burden of proof is clear and convincing evidence which is somewhere between preponderance and the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt but not usually in personal injury cases. We discuss class action cases where a group of plaintiffs’ cases who all claim the same injury are grouped together like when the tobacco industry was found liable for intentional and reckless behavior in not warning smokers of the danger if they used their product as they knew or should have known that danger but kept it secret. We also discussed the issue of psychological and physical damages and the movement toward compensating them equally in the law.


  • Civil law
  • Plaintiff
  • Liability
  • Damages
  • Proximate cause
  • Class action

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-44470-9_11
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Correspondence to Lenore E. Walker .

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Walker, L.E., Shapiro, D., Akl, S. (2020). Civil Law: U.S. Personal Injury Torts. In: Introduction to Forensic Psychology. Springer, Cham.

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