In personal injury law, fault determines the legal responsibility for causing harm to another person. The concept of fault is used to establish liability for the costs of an accident. To determine fault, it’s crucial to identify the party or parties responsible for the accident and resulting injuries. In some situations, multiple parties may be at fault.
For a person who has been injured to recover damages, they must prove that someone else was at fault. To be considered at fault, a person must have acted in a careless or negligent manner, resulting in harm to another person. Negligence is a form of carelessness that leads to injury.
Establishing Fault and Liability
Determining fault in a personal injury incident is typically handled by the insurance company of the party who may be accountable. If the liable party is insured, their insurance company will take charge of awarding compensation to the injured party.
In cases where the injured person has retained a personal injury lawyer, the attorney will carry out their own investigation to establish fault. In the event that the insurance company and the injured party (and their lawyer) cannot reach an agreement on liability, the injured party may file a personal injury lawsuit. The final decision on fault will then be made by a jury in a civil court proceeding.
Proving Liability Through Negligence:
In order for a party to be held liable in a personal injury case, all four elements of negligence must be present. The burden of proof falls on the injured party, who must provide evidence to support their claims.:
- Legal Duty of Care – The party had a responsibility to act with a level of care to avoid causing harm to others. For instance, all drivers have a duty to drive safely on the roads.
- Duty Breach – The victim must prove that the at-fault party failed to fulfill their legal duty of care.
- Harm Caused by Negligence – The victim must show that the at-fault party’s negligence led to their injury.
For example, if a driver was using their cell phone while driving and caused an accident that resulted in the other driver having whiplash and a broken leg, the first driver would be considered at fault for breaching their duty of care.
- Evidence of Damages – The victim must provide evidence of the damages they sustained as a result of the at-fault party’s negligence, such as medical bills for treatment and other related expenses.
Other Types of Fault:
Besides negligence, there are other ways in which fault can be established, including through:
- Negligence per se: The defendant has violated a law established to protect the public from harm, such as reckless driving, texting while driving, or failing to secure a dangerous animal.
- Intentional conduct: This involves deliberately causing harm to another person. A person can be deemed at fault even if they didn’t intend to cause an accident or injury, but in cases of intentional conduct, the defendant took deliberate action to cause harm.
- Strict liability: This means that an individual can be held automatically liable for damages without having to prove negligence or intent to cause harm. This typically only applies in product liability cases or in cases involving highly hazardous materials, such as explosives.
Comparative and Contributory Liability:
In some personal injury cases, multiple parties may be held responsible for the damages. This is referred to as either comparative fault or contributory fault.
When both the defendant and the plaintiff share responsibility for the accident, this is known as comparative fault or comparative negligence. In this scenario, damages are awarded to each party based on their percentage of fault as determined by a judge or jury. For instance, if a party is found to be 90% at fault, their settlement would be reduced by 10%. If a party is found to be 50% or more at fault, they cannot recover any damages.
If the victim’s own actions also contributed to their injury, this is referred to as contributory fault or contributory negligence. In such cases, the victim may still be able to receive damages, but the amount may be reduced based on their degree of responsibility for the accident.