Common Defenses in a Personal Injury Claim

March 26, 2021

The purpose of a personal injury lawsuit is to hold a negligent party responsible for the damages they caused. If you suffer injuries due to someone else’s actions, you can suffer from physical pain, emotional trauma, and financial hardship—and it is only fair to expect the person or entity responsible for this harm to pay for your losses.

However, an at-fault party can avoid liability, partially or entirely, if he or she invokes certain defenses. If you are filing a personal injury lawsuit, it is important to be aware of these common defenses so that you can protect yourself and your right to compensation.

Assumption of Risk

Assumption of risk is a legal doctrine that states that a plaintiff in a personal injury claim assumed the risk of injury by behaving in a certain way or due to the nature of an activity. This defense is common in premises liability claims, or accidents that occur due to a property owner’s negligence, as well as sports injury claims.

If the defendant can prove that the situation was inherently dangerous and that he or she did not do anything to make it more dangerous, you may not be able to recover compensation. For example, if you break your leg while skiing, you may not be able to hold the resort owner liable for your damages because skiing poses the risk of injury. If you break your leg because of a malfunctioning ski lift, however, you could not have assumed the risk and the resort owner may be liable.

Comparative Negligence

Under California’s pure comparative negligence laws, the court may reduce your compensation if the defendant can prove that you share part of the fault for the accident. For example, if you are in an accident with a driver who runs a red light, the at-fault driver could claim that you were speeding at the time of the accident.

If the court verifies this claim, it could assign a certain percentage of the liability to you. The court will then reduce the amount of compensation you can recover by this percentage. For example, if you ask for a $30,000 award and the court assigns 40% of the liability to you, you will only recover $18,000.

In California, you can recover compensation even if the court believes you are 99% at fault—but as an injured person, you want to preserve as much of your award as possible. Your attorney will work with you to protect you against accusations of shared liability.

Pre-Existing Conditions

The defendant may claim that your injuries were not the result of his or her actions, and that your pre-existing conditions should limit his or her liability. He or she may use your medical records as proof that you sought treatment for the same injury in the years before the accident. However, a pre-existing condition does not prevent you from recovering compensation.

In California, the eggshell plaintiff rule applies to victims with pre-existing conditions. Under the eggshell rule, the defendant is liable for the full extent of the victim’s injuries even if he or she is especially susceptible to injury. In this situation, you can use your medical records to show that you required special treatment that you would not have needed but for the defendant’s actions.

If you are filing a personal injury lawsuit, these common defenses could impact your ability to collect compensation. In these situations, you need an attorney on your side who can advocate for your best interests during each stage of litigation. As soon as you receive medical attention, contact a California personal injury lawyer to discuss your legal options.