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How Is Personal Injury Liability Determined

February 26, 2021 Personal Injury Blog

One of the most important questions in a personal injury case is: “Who is liable?” Once liability is established, the liable party must pay for at least a portion of the damages (losses) suffered by the injured party. 

What is Liability? 

Liability means legal responsibility, or who is at fault for another person’s injury. In order to prove liability, you must demonstrate that someone: 

  • Owed You a Duty – The defendant (at-fault party) had legal responsibility for your safety. For example, all drivers have a duty to protect other drivers and passengers by following traffic laws. Property owners have a duty to keep their premises reasonably safe for visitors. 
  • Breach of Duty – The defendant knowingly or carelessly failed in his or her duty to protect you. (e.g. drunk driving, failure to repair broken steps)
  • Breach Resulted in Injury – The defendant’s breach of duty was the “proximate cause” of your injury. Proximate cause is the ability to foresee that certain actions or inaction will result in harm upon another person. 
  • Damages – You suffered verifiable physical, psychological, and/or financial losses. A defendant may have acted negligently, but if you did not suffer harm, there are no grounds for a lawsuit.

How is Liability Determined? 

How liability is determined will depend upon the specifics of the case. If you have hired a personal injury lawyer in San Diego, they will conduct an investigation to collect evidence, possibly reconstruct your accident, identify all potentially liable parties, then make a final determination. After gathering enough evidence in support of your claim, your lawyer will present it to the liable party.

The at-fault party will typically have liability insurance, which means the insurance company will make their own decision on liability after they complete an investigation of the facts. If the insurer finds their policyholder is at fault, they may offer you a settlement. 

However, if the insurance company denies/devalues your claim, or the at-fault party does not have insurance and disagrees that they are liable, a personal injury lawsuit can be filed against the insurer or the defendant personally to have liability decided by a jury. 

What Happens if Multiple Parties are Liable? 

Insurance companies, the defendants’ lawyers, your personal injury lawyer, or the court must determine if the parties are “jointly and severally liable,” as well as how much each party contributed to causing your injuries. Most personal injury cases settle before court; therefore, the attorneys for each side will engage in negotiation — drawing on the facts, evidence, relevant precedent, and applicable law — in an attempt to agree on those percentages of liability. Each party is then held accountable for paying a portion of the settlement or verdict if you win at trial. 

California’s Pure Comparative Negligence Law

In any type of personal injury case, the defendant(s) may not be 100% to blame for your damages. California follows the rule of pure comparative negligence, which as previously mentioned will assign each party a percentage of fault, including you. Your settlement or award will be reduced by the percentage of liability. For instance, if you are found 20% at fault for a car accident, you would receive $80,000 of a $100,000 verdict. The higher your percentage of liability, the smaller your recovery amount.

We Can Help You Determine and Prove Liability

To maximize your recovery and hold a defendant liable, you need the help of a highly skilled San Diego Personal Injury Attorney. Contact CaseyGerry today at (619) 238-1811 and start with a free consultation.