January 12, 2022
The most crucial determination in a personal injury case is which party is at fault for the plaintiff’s injury, and therefore liable for paying damages to compensate the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s attorney will often decide who is at fault when determining which parties to sue. The attorney will investigate the case and all of the potentially at-fault parties. The defendants will likely dispute their fault, and so the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is responsible for their injuries. This is often done using a negligence theory, but a lawyer may recommend a few alternative approaches if necessary.
Proving Fault Through Negligence
Many personal injury claims arise through someone’s negligence. Negligence occurs when someone fails to use the standard of care expected of a reasonable person and causes harm to another person in doing so. Negligence has four legal elements, and a plaintiff must prove all four to prevail in a negligence claim. These elements are duty, breach, damages, and causation.
First, the defendant must owe a legal duty to the plaintiff, such as the duty vehicle drivers owe to other motorists to exercise reasonable care while driving. Second, the defendant must have breached that duty, for instance, by texting while driving. Third, the plaintiff must have suffered actual damage due to the defendant’s breach, which usually includes medical bills, property damage, pain and suffering, and lost income. Lastly, the defendant’s breach must have been the cause of the plaintiff’s injury. If the plaintiff can prove all four of these elements, they will succeed in showing that the defendant was at fault for their injury, unless the defendant successfully proves an affirmative defense.
Alternate Ways to Prove Fault in a Personal Injury Case
A lawyer shares that some personal injury cases do not involve negligence. In such cases, the plaintiff can prove the defendant’s fault through other methods, including showing intentional conduct by the defendant, establishing negligence per se, or proving that strict liability should apply to the case.
Intentional conduct occurs when the defendant acts voluntarily with an intended result or with substantial certainty that a particular outcome will occur. Intentional conduct is used to prove fault in cases arising from acts such as assault and battery.
Negligence per se occurs when the defendant has violated a statute. The defendant will be automatically liable for the plaintiff’s injury if the injury is the type the statute was designed to prevent. The plaintiff is a part of the class of people that the statute was designed to protect. For example, suppose a person is driving recklessly and injures a pedestrian. In that case, the pedestrian can sue under a negligence per se theory because the defendant has violated a reckless driving statute.
Strict liability is a theory of liability under which the plaintiff does not have to establish the defendant’s negligence to prevail and recover damages. Strict liability is applicable when the defendant engages in an abnormally dangerous activity. If the defendant injures someone in the course of this activity, they will be liable even if they exercised reasonable care. Strict liability is also often applied to product liability and animal bite cases.
Thanks to Eglet Adams for their insight on fault in personal injury cases.