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Liability In Accident And Injury Cases

Liability is an important word in an accident and injury case. It means being responsible for something in terms of the law.

If you have been injured in an accident, whether it was a motor vehicle accident, an accident on someone else’s property, or a defective product, you face many challenges. You may have mounting bills that are not covered by health insurance. You may experience pain and suffering, and emotional distress. How will you recover financial damages to help your situation?

How Liability is Determined

Many factors are involved in determining who is liable for financial damages in an accident case:

  • The type of accident and related insurance laws in your state
  • The type of liability that applies in the case

Types of Accidents and Insurance Laws

While there are several types of accidents, to keep things simple, we’ll focus on just three: motor vehicle accidents, premises liability, and product liability. If you have a question about another type of accident, we encourage you to contact one of our experienced attorneys for a free personal consultation.

Motor Vehicle Accidents in Tort States

In most states, automobile insurance is based on the notion of fault, or tort law. In those states, the insurance companies of the parties involved determine who is at fault.

For example, in a car accident, the people involved submit claims to their respective car insurance companies. Typically, there is a police report involved, in which the responding officer has included a statement assessing who or what caused the accident, and how. The insurance companies may undertake their own investigation and determine which party’s policy must pay for repairs, medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, etc., up to the amount of the at-fault driver’s policy coverage.

If there is a conflict with the insurance company or other party, the case may go to court. If you feel your own insurance company is doing a good job representing your interests, then let them handle it. If you aren’t sure, you may want to consult with a personal injury attorney.

No-Fault Insurance Laws

Some states, such as New York, have no-fault insurance laws. In those states, each driver’s insurance company pays for their own medical expenses, up to the policy limits.

However, even in no-fault states, property damage is still fault-based. So, the insurance companies will still need to determine fault to assess who pays for car repairs.

Premises Liability

A basic description of a premises liability case is when you are injured on someone else’s property.

Property owners have a responsibility to keep their property safe. If a person who was on their property legally is injured because the owner was negligent in doing so, the owner is liable for their injuries.

Examples of people who are on the property legally are:

  • An invitee, such as a customer in a store.
  • A social guest, such as a neighbor who is welcomed onto the property
  • A licensee, or person who is there in an official capacity, such as a mail carrier or meter reader

In certain situations, an owner may even be liable to a trespasser, for instance, if the trespasser was a child. In other situations, even an expressly invited guest onto the property may be partially liable for their own injuries, depending on how the property is being used.

When someone is injured on a property, the person will typically file a claim against the owner’s property insurance. However, it is not always easy to determine how to do this, and the process may be contentious. Contacting a personal injury attorney is often the best course of action.

Product Liability

Under a legal doctrine known as “strict products liability,” a person who is injured by a dangerous or defective product can be compensated by the product’s manufacturer or the business where they bought it, without needing to prove that anyone was at fault.

Manufacturers and sellers have a duty to ensure the products they provide to the public are safe. In a products liability case, the plaintiff must show that the product was being used as purchased, for the purpose for which it was intended, and the product still caused an injury.  That is enough to demonstrate a breach of that duty.

Defective product claims can arise from defectively manufactured products, defective product design, or failure to provide adequate instructions or warnings.

If you are injured by a defective product, you can contact the seller or manufacturer, but it is important that you act quickly, to avoid statutes of limitations that may impact your case. If you don’t receive an adequate response in a timely manner, you should contact an attorney right away.

Types of Accident Liability

The evidence required to prove your personal injury claim varies based on whether your claim is based on negligence or strict liability (often, it is both to some degree). It may be easier to recover damages in a situation where strict liability applies; however, it is also important to know that the standards are different to proving each.

Negligence

The basis of a negligence claim is that someone had a legal duty to do something or not do something, and the person breached his duty to you. For example, drivers have a duty to be attentive and lawful while driving. If a driver hits your car because he or she is fiddling with the radio or speeding, that person has breached a duty to you, and you may have a negligence claim.

Comparative negligence

In the above example, if a driver hits your car while breaching a duty to drive safely, you may also found to be partially at fault if you were also doing something unlawful. For instance, if you were texting while driving or driving without headlights after dark, you would be considered comparatively negligent.
Under comparative negligence, a judge or arbitrator would decide the degree to which you contributed to your own injuries through your negligent actions. For example, if it is determined that you are 50 percent responsible for the accident, you would receive 50 percent of the damages to which you were otherwise entitled.

Strict liability

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that imposes legal responsibility without fault, allowing an injured person to recover for damages.

Some activities are so dangerous that even the use of utmost care to prevent harm does not remove the risk of harm completely. For example, handling, storing, transporting, or using explosives is considered an abnormally dangerous activity that triggers strict liability if someone is injured.

Strict liability may apply to common household animals such as dogs as well as wild animals and circus animals such as tigers and elephants. If a dog owner knows of their dog’s dangerous past behavior or the dog has previously bitten someone, the dog owner is liable for the dog’s actions. If a circus elephant escapes from a circus that has taken every precaution to prevent the escape, the circus is liable because of the wild nature of the elephant.

Liability Expert Attorneys

Have questions about liability pertaining to your accident or injury case?

The lawyers at TorkLaw can analyze your claim to determine the type of claim and the best way to obtain the maximum amount of compensation. Consultations are free, and there is no obligation to hire us. Call our team of experienced attorneys to discuss your case at 888.845.9696.