This article comprehensively reviews the lateral fluid percussion (LFP) model of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in small animal species with particular emphasis on its validity, clinical relevance and reliability. The LFP model, initially described in 1989, has become the most extensively utilized animal model of TBI (to date, 232 PubMed citations), producing both focal and diffuse (mixed) brain injury. Despite subtle variations in injury parameters between laboratories, universal findings are evident across studies, including histological, physiological, metabolic, and behavioral changes that serve to increase the reliability of the model. Moreover, demonstrable histological damage and severity-dependent behavioral deficits, which partially recover over time, validate LFP as a clinically-relevant model of human TBI. The LFP model, also has been used extensively to evaluate potential therapeutic interventions, including resuscitation, pharmacologic therapies, transplantation, and other neuroprotective and neuroregenerative strategies. Although a number of positive studies have identified promising therapies for moderate TBI, the predictive validity of the model may be compromised when findings are translated to severely injured patients. Recently, the clinical relevance of LFP has been enhanced by combining the injury with secondary insults, as well as broadening studies to incorporate issues of gender and age to better approximate the range of human TBI within study design. We conclude that the LFP brain injury model is an appropriate tool to study the cellular and mechanistic aspects of human TBI that cannot be addressed in the clinical setting, as well as for the development and characterization of novel therapeutic interventions. Continued translation of pre-clinical findings to human TBI will enhance the predictive validity of the LFP model, and allow novel neuroprotective and neuroregenerative treatment strategies developed in the laboratory to reach the appropriate TBI patients.