Establishing Liability in Personal Injury Cases
Establishing Liability. Your First Step in Getting Compensation for an Accident Case
Did you file a personal injury claim and now have to prove how another person or company is at fault for causing your damages? Are you wondering if you need an attorney to represent you in your case?
At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, our personal injury attorneys understand that many insurance companies will deny a victim's claim or deny the payment until liability can be proven. If you need legal assistance to help prove your case, contact our law office at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) or use the contact form to schedule a free consultation.
Were you in a car accident caused by someone else's negligence? You have likely seen advertisements and Internet articles on holding those responsible for the accident financially accountable.
However, proving liability against the negligent parties is required to receive monetary compensation for the victim's injuries, even when speaking to the defendant's insurance adjuster.
Determining Legal Responsibility
Deciding who is at fault often depends on the case's unique circumstances.
Typically, a personal injury lawyer investigates what happened, discovers every potential party legally responsible for damages, and makes a final liability determination. Proving fault allows the injured party to present their case to the court in a lawsuit or the other side through a claim.
In nearly all cases, the party determined to be liable for actual damages carries liability insurance, transferring the burden of paying the damages award to their insurance company. However, an insurance company will usually conduct an internal investigation to make an independent liability decision that might coincide with the personal injury attorney's decision or not.
In some cases, both parties cannot agree on legal liability. When this occurs, the victim's lawyer will typically file a personal injury lawsuit and present the evidence in front of a judge and jury, who will have the ultimate decision of which side has legal responsibility for damages.
The Standard of Proof in Personal Injury Claims
The first thing 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 policy, 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. A preponderance of the evidence is not the same as "beyond a reasonable doubt" that you would find in a criminal case.
Here, you must show that your negligence claim has more than a 50% chance of being true (under Illinois comparative fault law). With legal advice and representation, it is much easier to meet the burden of proof in a civil case than it is in a criminal one.
A few states have a much stricter standard of contributory negligence, where the injured party cannot collect any damages if they were only partially at fault for what happened. That said, it is often easier to recover financial damages in cases where strict liability applies.
Strict liability is determined as the standard of liability, where a person or entity is legally responsible for any harmful consequences caused by activity even when they are absent of fault or criminal intent. Strict liability in tort is usually involved in dangerous acts, animal attacks, and product liability.
The standard of proof is significantly less than cases involving strict liability. For example, the victim does not need to prove that a toy manufacturer directly caused a child's harm after using the toy as intended.
The Negligence Test in a Personal Injury Case
The victim must show that the other party involved in the accident was negligent and that the negligence led to the plaintiff's injury. In addition, to establish liability, the victim must prove that the responsible party 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 perfect at all times, there is a "reasonable person" standard that can be used in any personal injury case.
For a car accident victim, the reasonable individual 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.
In a personal injury case involving medical malpractice, the reasonable individual 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.
In incidents involving an injury at the premises of a friend or business, such as a slip and fall case, your damages may be covered under a homeowner's policy or bodily injury liability coverage for the company.
How to Prove Liability in a Personal Injury Claim
Proving fault 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 crucial to develop 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 lawsuit. The same test is used for cases as varied as auto injury accidents to botched surgeries. In every single case, you must prove:
- Duty- The first thing that you must show is that the other party (negligent person) had a relationship with you that would require them to owe you a duty to take care which is relatively easy to prove. For example, another driver on the road owes a duty of care to other drivers and their passengers. Likewise, 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 defendant breached this duty of care and did not act as a reasonable individual would act under the circumstances. You must show what a reasonable individual would have done and 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 (negligent party). In other words, if the defendant did not make their mistake, you would have never been injured. In some cases, 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 instead of the car that hit you.
When you are filing a personal injury claim, it is not necessarily what happened that is crucial to the case; it is what you can prove happened.
You will need to bring evidence in court about the liable party that will strengthen your claim. Without it, you will not be able to prove fault, and your case may be dismissed.
When More Than One Person Is at Fault
In many cases, more than one person or company is at fault for causing damages through an accident, medical malpractice, or abusive behavior. For example, many careless drivers can cause an auto accident.
In most states, all negligent parties are held financially accountable to compensate the victim for their damages, including hospitalization, medical expenses, lost income, future lost earnings, pain, and suffering.
Typically, all the defendants' insurance companies will compensate the victim, even in states where civil tort law could be based on the theory of comparative negligence.
Did the Accident or Injury Occur in the Workplace?
Was a workplace injury the result of a defective product, slip and fall accident, vehicle accident, or another hazardous incident? Injured victims injured in their workplace are usually entitled to receive workers' compensation benefits through the Worker's Compensation Program.
Typically, the injured employee cannot file a lawsuit against their employer for the dangerous condition when receiving workers' compensation payments. However, other "third parties" are also responsible for causing the damage, like a manufacturer selling defective equipment.
Proving Negligence: What You'll Need
The evidence you will need to prove negligence against one person or multiple parties will likely be presented in court if the case goes to trial. Working with your personal injury attorney, you can introduce any of these to help demonstrate negligence and prove fault 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 testimony as an injured person
There are some rare cases in liability claims in which you or your family members do not need to prove that the other party was negligent. However, 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 homeowners' insurance or auto insurance policy would still need much of this information to determine liability. But, again, contacting a personal injury attorney could give you peace of mind as you pursue a claim.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Committed to Your Case
As an established personal injury law firm, Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers understands that liability issues can confuse the injured person.
Do you or a family member have questions related to a personal injury or wrongful death case? If so, we invite you to contact our law office at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) or use the contact form to schedule a free case evaluation.
Our personal injury attorneys can address the legal process for your legal situation and the aspects of liability insurance coverage. Additionally, our law firm accepts all personal injury cases and wrongful death lawsuits on a contingency fee basis, meaning there is never a legal fee charged unless we successfully obtain a financial recovery for you.
All sensitive or confidential information you share with our law firm remains private through an attorney-client relationship.