I was recently involved in a car accident. Unfortunately, since it was my first accident, I was scatter-brained and anxious. What I did not realize at the time was that the actions you take immediately after the accident can affect a personal injury case and the outcome of that case. I wanted to find a way to share my experiences and mistakes with other. Since the Internet is so popular, I figured this would be a great way to do so. While you likely aren't planning on being in an accident soon, if you are, hopefully you remember some of the tips I share on this website.
When a claimant brings an injury case against the defendant, the central argument for the defense paying damages is liability. It's important to understand what liability is and how it affects the possibility of a claimant getting compensation.
American law assumes people and organizations are responsible for not letting their choices harm others. If an apartment building landlord refused to fix a handrail after tenants have notified them, the landlord would likely be liable if someone fell because of the handrail.
Whatever triggers liability has to be within the defendant's control. For example, the same landlord probably wouldn't be liable if lightning struck the building. However, they probably would be liable they didn't remove snow from nearby sidewalks after a storm.
Types of Liability
A personal injury attorney will recognize two kinds of liability. The first and far more common type is negligence. The second is strict liability.
In negligence cases, the main question is how liable is the defendant for what happened. The accident victim and the defendant may share liability. Suppose someone was running on the snow-covered sidewalk from the previous example. The claimant might be found 25% liable because running on a snowy sidewalk is a bad idea.
Most U.S. states require at least 51% liability on the part of the defendant. Otherwise, the incident is the claimant's fault, and no damages are available. If the defendant is liable, they will only pay the percentage they are liable for. Suppose you suffered $100,000 in medical damages. A defendant who held 70% of the liability would have to pay $70,000 in compensation.
Keep in mind not everybody is liable for all things. A defendant must have a duty of care to be liable at all. If someone is just passing by when a person falls off a scaffold, for example, the bystander isn't liable because they didn't do anything to assure the victim's safety in the first place.
These are either-or cases. A personal injury lawyer only has to prove the defendant was at fault. If the defendant was at fault, then they are 100% on the hook for all the damages you can prove.
Strict liability applies mostly when society considers an activity to be dangerous. Imagine a demolition company imploding a building. They have a duty to move people out of any potentially affected areas to protect them from harm. If the company doesn't evacuate a large enough area and a piece of debris injures someone off-site, the business is strictly liable for what happened.
For more information, contact a personal injury lawyer in your area.