What Is Liability?
Liability, when related to a personal injury case, means responsibility for harm imposed by law or a court. Typically, the party – or parties – who are determined to be liable for causing harm can be required to compensate victims for their injuries.
The Different Theories of Liability in Personal Injury Cases
There are several legal theories that allow someone to hold another person liable for injuries or other harm. Not all liability theories are available for all cases. The facts and circumstances of your case will determine what type of claim you can pursue.
Negligence is a common legal theory used to hold someone liable for damages in a personal injury case. Negligence is when someone fails to act in a way that a reasonable person would act in a similar circumstance.
Negligence involves four distinct elements:
- Duty: the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty not to cause harm
- Breach: the defendant breached the duty of care
- Causation: the breach of duty caused harm to the plaintiff
- Damages: the plaintiff suffered damages as a result.
A plaintiff must prove each element in order to receive damages in a negligence case.
Product liability refers to cases involving product malfunctions or defects that cause injuries. If you are driving a car and your brakes go out and cause an accident, then you can hold the manufacturer of the brakes as well as the car manufacturer liable for your injuries. If a product manufacturer produces any item that is defective, then the manufacturer can be held liable for the harm caused by the dangerous item. If the manufacturer creates a product that has a design defect, then the manufacturer can be held liable for any harm caused by the defect.
Vicarious liability generally relates to an employer/employee relationship. If an employee of a company harms someone while working within the scope of his or her employment, then the employer can be held liable. If an employee was doing something outside his or her employment and causes harm, then an employer may escape liability.
The most important element to determine in a vicarious liability case is control. How much control does the employer have over their employee? If an employee is free to choose how and when they work, then that employee might be considered an independent contractor. Vicarious liability exists to prevent employers from hiding behind the mistakes of their employees.
Strict liability refers to liability that is automatically imposed if the harm occurred, regardless of fault or negligence. It does not examine whether someone acted intentionally, reasonably, or carefully. Strict liability is only available in certain cases where the potential for harm is great. Under strict liability, people must take on the responsibility for any harm that results from their actions. Some actions that can result in strict liability are products liability, abnormally dangerous activities, and owning wild animals.
If you are harmed by a product defect, then you can file a strict liability claim. If you are harmed by explosives that are being used in a nearby construction site, then you can file a strict liability claim. If you own a wild animal that harms someone, then you can be held liable under strict liability.
Strict liability can also apply in criminal cases. One common charge where strict liability is used is statutory rape. In a statutory rape case, the mindset of the offender does not matter. It does not matter that the offender thought the victim was underage, the victim being underage is enough to impose criminal liability.
If you have specific legal questions, it is important that you speak to an attorney for advice. Call (817) 420-7000 or contact us today, our lawyers at Stephens Law Firm will answer all the questions you have.