In personal injury cases, liability is a critical element. If someone causes an accident, they are at fault for injuries and damages inflicted on another person. At the same time, being at fault and liable are different concepts legally. Someone can be at fault but not liable. Each legal element of liability has to be proven before someone can recover compensation for damages.
Personal injury law is technically known as tort law. The objective of this area of the law is to protect someone if they or their property is injured or harmed because of another person’s action or failure to act.
If a tort action is successful, the individual responsible for the harm or injury compensates the person who suffered the loss.
With those things in mind, below are five specific facts to know about liability in personal injury.
1. The Definition of Liability
In a legal sense, every individual is responsible for their actions, or at least that’s the assumption.
Under the law, there’s also the assumption that all of us are responsible for acting in a way that doesn’t cause injury to others. This concept is also referred to as owing a duty of care to not injure someone else.
If you fail in that duty and it leads to an injury, you are liable for the injury.
Most personal injury cases stem from a negligence claim. This includes car accidents, medical malpractice, slip and fall accidents, and wrongful death.
The party that’s injured has the burden to prove the four legal elements of negligence.
Before you can hold someone or an entity responsible for the harm you suffer, you have to prove the legal theory of negligence.
In a general sense, if someone behaves carelessly and that behavior injures someone else, under the principle of negligence, the person who acted carelessly is legally liable for the harm that resulted.
2. The Legal Elements of Negligence
Legal elements of negligence include:
- Duty—when looking at a negligence claim, first, it has to be determined whether the defendant owed a legal duty of care to the plaintiff. In some situations, the relationship that occurs between a plaintiff and defendant might create a legal duty, as is the case with a doctor and a patient, for example. The defendant might owe the plaintiff a legal duty to act with reasonable care in a particular situation, also. That’s the case when someone is expected to operate their motor vehicle safely and with due care.
- Breach of duty—the next element of negligence in the legal sense of breach of duty. Did a defendant breach their duty by doing or not doing something a reasonable person would do given a similar situation? A reasonably prudent person is a term often used here. It’s a legal standard that’s meant to show how the average individual would act given a certain situation. If the average person, knowing what a defendant is assumed to have known at the same time, would have done something different than the defendant, then they may be found to have breached their duty.
- Causation—the third element is causation. This requires a plaintiff show the negligence of a defendant actually caused their injury. While someone might have been acting negligently, in a personal injury claim, a plaintiff can only recover damages if the negligent behavior is the cause of their injuries.
- Damages—the final element of negligence in personal injury damage. The element of damages requires that the court can compensate a plaintiff for their injuries, usually through money.
3. Proving Fault
In a personal injury case, determining the legal responsibility for an injury or accident can become complex but usually relies on showing someone was negligent.
Legal liability is determined by the rule of carelessness.
Liability can be determined in a few ways. Often, an admission of being responsible by one party is enough to establish liability. Other situations can require a jury to hear the evidence against all parties to determine liability.
Evidence that might be used for proving fault includes pictures and videos taken at the scene of an accident, witness accounts, and the accident report from the investigating officer.
In a civil lawsuit, the same level of proof isn’t required that’s needed in a criminal lawsuit.
The most simplified rule is that if one person in an accident was less careful than the other, that less careful individual must pay for at least some of the damages the more careful person suffered.
4. The Concept of Strict Liability
In rare situations involving personal injury, a party can be held strictly liable if there are damages. Strict liability doesn’t require intention or negligence. The plaintiff wouldn’t have to prove the other party was negligent or had any intention to hurt them.
With strict liability, all that has to be shown is that the party was responsible for injuries and that damages were sustained.
We often see strict liability in product liability cases.
5. If More Than One Person Is at Fault
Situations involving negligence and liability can quickly get very complicated. An example is if there’s a situation where more than one person is at fault for an accident. For example, maybe there are several drivers behaving carelessly who are involved in a wreck.
In most states, any of the careless parties may be responsible for compensating someone for their injuries.
The responsible parties have to decide between themselves if one should then reimburse the others.
If your own carelessness led to an accident, at least partly, you might still be able to receive compensation from anyone else who was careless and partially responsible.
The amount of someone else’s liability for an accident is determined through a comparison of their carelessness with your own. The percentage of liability determines the percentage of damages to be paid, which is known as comparative negligence.
Negligence and liability can become complicated very quickly, so it’s best to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney.