Establishing Liability. Your First Step in Getting Compensation for an Accident Case
If you have been injured in an accident, you have likely seen television advertisements and internet articles telling you that you may be entitled to significant financial compensation for your injuries. However, this is not possible unless you prove that the other party to the accident was liable for your injuries.
This can only happen if you bring evidence that supports your claim. Here is how you prove liability in a personal injury case.
The Standard of Proof in Personal Injury Claims
The first thing that you need to know is the standard that courts will use to decide whether the defendant is responsible for your injuries. The auto insurance company, homeowners insurance, or other types of insurance coverage will also use the same standard.
If your case makes it to a trial, you must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the other person was negligent. While we will discuss the exact elements for negligence soon, this standard is not the same as the “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you would find in a criminal case.
Here, what you would need to show is that your claim has more than a 50% chance of being true (under Illinois comparative fault law). It is much easier to meet the burden of proof in a civil case than it is in a criminal one.
The Negligence Test in Personal Injury Cases
With that in mind, you would need to show that the other party to the accident was negligent. This means that someone else did not act with the level of care that a reasonable person would have under the circumstances.
In other words, there was something that they did that was wrong or failed to do what they should have. While people are not required to be absolutely perfect at all times, there is a “reasonable person” standard that can be used in any type of personal injury case.
If you were in a car accident, the reasonable person standard would mean that the other driver does not break any traffic laws such as speeding, consuming alcohol, or using their cell phone while driving.
If your personal injury case involves medical malpractice, the reasonable person standard would look at what an ordinary physician would have done under the circumstances by analyzing the medical steps that they took in your care.
If your case involves an injury at the premises of a friend or business, such as a slip and fall case, your case may be covered under a homeowner's policy or bodily injury liability coverage for the company.
How to Prove Liability in Personal Injury Cases
As you can see proving liability is a fact-based inquiry that looks at exactly what the other person did at the time of your injury. The outcome of your case can vary as the facts change. Thus, it is important to be able to come with the facts and evidence necessary to prove negligence for court cases or liability coverage.
There are four different parts of the negligence test in any personal injury case. The same test is used for cases as varied as auto injury accidents to botched surgeries. In every single case, this is what you must prove:
- Duty - The first thing that you must show is that the other party had a relationship with you that would require them to owe you a duty to take care. This is a relatively easy party for your case to prove. For example, another driver on the road owes a duty of care to other drivers and their passengers. A surgeon would certainly owe a duty of care to their patient.
- Breach of Duty - This is where many personal injury cases are fought. You must show that the other person breached this duty of care not acting as a reasonable person would under the circumstances. You must not only show what a reasonable person would have done but also how the defendant acted unreasonably. A couple of examples would include speeding behind the wheel in an auto accident, and a surgeon leaving a medical instrument inside of a patient.
- Injury - You need to show that you suffered an injury. In most cases, this is one of the more easily provable elements of your case.
- Causation - The final element is to prove that your injuries would not have happened “but for” the actions of the defendant. In other words, if the plaintiff did not make their mistake, you would have never been hurt. This could mean that even third parties that did not directly hurt you could be liable. For example, if a motorist broke a traffic law and caused a multi-car pileup, it would be that person who would be liable as opposed to the car that hit you.
When you are filing a personal injury case, it is not necessarily what happened that is important, it is what you can prove happened. This means that you will need to bring evidence in court that will strengthen your claim. Without it, you will not be able to prove liability and your case may be dismissed.
What You Need to Prove Liability
Here is what you can use as evidence in your case when it comes to court. Working with your personal injury attorney, you can introduce any of these to help demonstrate negligence to a court or an insurance provider:
- Testimony of witnesses at the scene
- Medical records that prove that you were injured and the extent of your bodily injury (this will also be important for medical expenses and medical bills)
- Testimony from scientific or medical experts
- Pictures of the scene of an accident that can prove what happened or your property damage
- Accident reports from the police
- Your own testimony as an injured person
There are some rare cases in liability claims in which you or your family members do not even need to prove that the other party was negligent. In some personal injury cases, there is a strict liability standard.
In these cases, the only thing that you need to prove is that you were hurt and the defendant was responsible. You do not have to show that they breached the duty of care.
If you settle your case before it goes to court, the home owners insurance or auto insurance policy would still need much of this information to determine liability. Contacting a personal injury attorney could give you peace of mind as you pursue a claim.
Personal Injury Attorneys Committed to Your Case
As an established personal injury law firm, Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers appreciates the fact that liability issues can be confusing. If you or a family member has questions related to a personal injury or wrongful death case, we invite you to contact our office for a free consultation.
We are happy to address the legal process for your situation and the aspects of liability insurance coverage. We always work on a contingency fee basis meaning there is never a legal fee charged unless we are successful in obtaining a financial recovery for you.