How Is Liability for an Accident Determined?

March 22, 2021

In California, you have the right to collect compensation if you suffer injuries in an accident that someone else caused. However, you will need to prove that he or she was liable for the accident. Liability is one of the most important questions in a personal injury case, because the at-fault party must pay for the victims’ damages.

Determining liability in a personal injury claim can be a challenge, but your personal injury lawyer can help gather evidence and craft a compelling case to establish the at-fault party’s fault.

How to Prove Legal Liability

Accidents often occur due to someone else’s carelessness. Either someone acted in a way that he or she should not have, or someone failed to act when he or she should have. In a personal injury lawsuit, you will need to prove the at-fault party’s negligence in order to secure compensation from him or her.

To prove negligence, you will need to establish four key elements.

  • Duty of care: The at-fault party owed you a duty of care at the time of the accident. This duty of care will depend on the type of accident you were in. For example, if you were in a car accident, the other driver would have had a duty to follow all traffic laws and drive safely.
  • Breach of duty: The at-fault party breached his or her duty of care through a negligent act or omission. For example, a driver who drinks alcohol before getting behind the wheel would breach his or her duty of care, since it is illegal to drive while drunk and therefore a breach of traffic law.
  • Causation: The breach of duty directly caused your accident. For example, if you are in a collision with a drunk driver, you can use pieces of evidence like surveillance footage, police reports, and medical records to establish how the accident occurred and the fact that the driver was under the influence.
  • Damages: You suffered damages, or losses such as medical expenses or lost wages, as a result of the accident. You can secure compensation for your damages in your lawsuit.

California’s Comparative Fault Rules

If you successfully establish the at-fault party’s negligence, the court will likely rule in your favor and determine how much compensation you should receive. In some cases, however, liability is not straightforward. If the court believes you are partially responsible for the accident, your settlement could be at risk.

Under California’s pure comparative negligence rules, the court will reduce your compensation by the percentage of liability it believes you share. You can collect compensation even if you are mostly liable for the accident. For example, if you are in an accident with another driver and the court determines that you were texting and driving at the time of the collision, it may assign 40% of the liability to you. If you ask for a $50,000 award, you will only receive $30,000.

Proving liability in a civil lawsuit can be complex, but a personal injury attorney can help. Your lawyer can help you gather evidence to establish the defendant’s negligence and secure your right to compensation. He or she can also help protect you against accusations of shared liability. To discuss your legal options and path to recovery, speak to a California personal injury lawyer as soon as possible following your accident.