Law has existed since ancient times when it more closely resembled a moral code. As legal systems developed, personal injury law did not make it to the big stage until around the 20th century.
Even in the early 1900s, personal injury cases weren’t all that frequent. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when lawyers began advertising, that personal injury law took off and became what it is today. But, what did it look like before then?
Long before legal talk was in the mind of people, “an eye for an eye” was the leading principle of law. During biblical times, roughly 10,000 – 400 B.C., those who were responsible for causing harm to others were expected to repay by offering exactly what was taken. However, over time, people decided that the principle was a bit cruel and unusual.
The Greeks and Romans
The beginning of lawyers truly begins in the times of Greek Philosophers and the Roman Empire. During this time, plaintiffs in a case were allowed to bring a partner with them to trial. At first, this partner was just a person that might have shown that the plaintiff was of good judgment and morals. However, as people grew wiser, plaintiffs began bringing partners to trial who had knowledge of the legal system. This practice went on for many years, until the law that bound legal partners from being paid was lifted. At this time, the practice of lawyers began to expand rapidly.
Res Ipsa Loquitur
Centuries passed and personal injury law became more and more commonplace. By the 1600s most plaintiffs were able to receive compensation for losses due to a personal injury. During this time, “Res Ipsa Loquitur” or “the thing itself speaks,” became the main principle of law. Under this doctrine it was said that some incidences do not happen on a daily basis. So, when something out of the ordinary transpired, someone must have been responsible for the event. Today, while circumstances have changed greatly in 400 years, this principle is still an underlying theme of law.
Personal injury law was not in the limelight until the 1930s. In 1932, Donoghue vs. Stevenson brought negligence to the public’s attention. Stevenson was a manufacturer of ginger beer. Mrs. Donoghue consumed half a bottle of the ginger beer and then poured the rest in a clear glass when she saw the decomposed remains of a snail. She then claimed that this caused her shock and gastroenteritis. Because of this, she issued proceedings against Stevenson. This was the first case where negligence, or failure to take proper care in doing something, came to the attention of the public eye.
Personal injury lawyers began to advertise themselves in the 1970s. The first law firm to do so, in something other than the yellow pages, was Jacoby & Meyers in 1979. They decided it was a good idea to get an advertisement on T.V. The idea stuck, and personal injury law is now one of the largest areas of practice in the United States. Today, there are more than 100,000 licensed personal injury lawyers in the nation, totaling around 7% of all lawyers.