What Does Liability Mean In Personal Injury Law?

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The term liability is regularly used in personal injury law. Presumably, you're not a personal injury lawyer, and you likely have some questions about what liability is and how it compares to responsibility. Let's try to address those concerns and consider how liability applies to claims and lawsuits. 

Aren't Liability and Responsibility the Same Thing?

No, they are not the same thing. It is entirely possible to be responsible for something that happened without being liable.

This happens because not everyone is liable in all situations for the harm that comes to others. A personal injury attorney has to show that the responsible party had a duty of care, a legally recognized duty to prevent the injuries from happening. If a store customer enters a clearly labeled employees-only section of the building, for example, they might be injured. A store employee might be responsible for the injury, but they may not be liable because the store doesn't have a duty to protect customers who are where they shouldn't be.

Liability can be waived, too. While enforcing them can be challenging for defendants, liability waivers that are written well can prevent someone from seeking compensation from a responsible party.

Percentages in Liability

Some injuries aren't going to be entirely one party's fault. Consider what happens if someone is running through a shop and hits a wet spot left behind due to cleaning. No "wet floor" sign was out. Who's at fault? On the one hand, you probably shouldn't run through a shop. On the other hand, a store should notify people that there is a wet area on the floor.

Many states require that a defendant has to be at least 51% responsible for an incident to be liable at all. Generally, the percentage of the claimant's liability is then subtracted from the overall compensation awarded. Perhaps you are seeking $100,000 in compensation for medical bills. If it was determined you were 25% responsible for your injuries, you would only be awarded $75,000.

Strict Liability

A few activities are so dangerous that the government holds defendants involved with them 100% liable if anyone gets hurt as a consequence. Suppose your next-door neighbor has a warehouse full of fireworks. Folks who work with explosives are almost always strictly liable for accidentally harming others with them. If a rocket from their property fired accidentally and hit you, you'd likely be able to recover 100% of the damages you can prove.

To learn more about liability, contact a personal injury attorney in your area.