Before the court awards compensation for damages to an injured person, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is liable. Liability in personal injury cases generally results from a breach of duty. The breach of duty may have been a requirement to act or a failure to act with reasonable care.
A tort is conduct that results in injury or harm to another person. Everyone has a duty to act with reasonable care in any given situation to avoid causing injury or death to another person. Failure to act with reasonable care creates liability for damages caused by the person’s conduct.
Most personal injury cases are founded on one of four types of liability:
- General Negligence
Many personal injury claims fall under this theory of liability.
To prove liability in a negligence case, the injured party must prove each of the following legal elements:
- Duty of care
- Breach of duty
The duty of care depends on the situation. For example, drivers have a duty of care to obey traffic laws and avoid conduct that could cause a car accident. Likewise, doctors owe a duty of care to patients to provide medical care that meets the acceptable standard of care for a given situation.
Judges and juries apply the “reasonable person” standard to determine if a party breached their duty of care. The trier of fact (judge or jurors) must determine what a “reasonable person” would have done given the same circumstances. In other words, how would a person of reasonable prudence act given the facts of the case?
If the defendant’s actions fell short of the reasonable person standard, the defendant may be liable for the plaintiff’s damages. However, liability may not apply if the defendant could not control the circumstances that led to the plaintiff’s injuries or the defendant could not reasonably foresee the danger to others.
The plaintiff must also prove that the defendant’s actions were a direct and proximate cause of the injury, and the plaintiff sustained damages due to the defendant’s actions.
- Intentional Torts
If someone intentionally injures another person, they may be held liable for that person’s damage. Intentional torts may also lead to criminal charges.
Examples of intentional torts include, but are not limited to:
- False imprisonment
The injured person must prove that the defendant acted with the intent of harming them before liability would apply. Any criminal case would be separate from the civil case. A guilty verdict in a criminal case does not automatically guarantee an award of damages in a civil case.
- Strict Liability
Intent is not a factor in strict liability cases. Liability does not hinge on proving that the other party was negligent in causing an injury. The injured party only needs to prove that the defendant caused the injury to hold them strictly liable for damages.
For example, in many product liability cases, a manufacturer can be held strictly liable for damages once the plaintiff proves:
- The product was defective;
- The defective product caused their injury; and
- They sustained damages because of the defective product.
The injured person does not need to prove that the manufacturer intended for the product to harm someone or the manufacturer’s conduct was negligent.
Another example of strict liability is California’s dog bite law. The law holds dog owners strictly liable for damages caused by dog bites, even if the owner did nothing wrong.
- Vicarious Liability
In some cases, a person may be held liable for the negligent conduct of another party. Vicarious liability holds a party financially responsible for the damages caused by another person. It often applies in cases involving employees who injure someone during the ordinary course of employment.
For example, vicarious liability might be used to hold a trucking company liable for a truck accident caused by an employee. Likewise, a restaurant might be liable for damages caused when a waiter spills hot food onto a customer.
California’s Comparative Negligence Laws
The theory of comparative negligence states that a person cannot recover full compensation for damages if they were partially liable for the cause of their injury. Four states hold that a person cannot recover any money for an injury if they are even one percent to blame for their injury. Other states place a 50% or 51% cap on fault to recover compensation.
However, California is a pure comparative fault state. Therefore, you could be 99% responsible for the cause of your injury and recover some money for your damages from the other party. For example, if a jury finds you were 40% to blame for the cause of a car accident, the most you could recover is 60% of your damages.
Proving liability for a personal injury claim can be challenging. As the injured party, you have the burden of proving each legal element required to create liability.
Contact an experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney for help with your claim. They’ll help you get the money you deserve after an accident or injury.