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How Is Liability Determined in a Personal Injury Case?

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Liability on a legal level means accountability for an accident or injury. In California, the civil courts will have a negligent party answer for his or her actions by holding that party liable for an injured victim’s damages. If an accident in California injures you, you will bring a personal injury case against the party you believe is liable for causing your accident. Understanding how an insurance company or the courts determine liability in a personal injury case could help you navigate the legal process.

State Liability Laws

Liability for an injury will not always go to the party at fault for an accident. While this is the most common scenario, liability laws in some states hold other parties financially responsible for accidents. In no-fault car insurance states, for example, liability for a car accident will go to each driver’s insurance company, regardless of fault. If you live in a no-fault state, you could be liable for your own injuries and damages, even if you did not cause the crash. California, however, is a fault state. Under California’s liability law, the person or party who committed an act of negligence and caused the accident or injury will be liable for damages.

California is also a pure comparative negligence state. Under this liability law, you and the defendant could both share financial responsibility for an accident. If the courts believe you and the defendant are both to blame, they will allocate a percentage of fault to you as well. Under California’s comparative negligence rule, your percentage of fault will reduce your recovery award accordingly. The defendant will only be liable for the percentage of fault assigned to him or her. You would be liable for the rest.

Evidence

In California, before someone will give you compensation for your injuries and damages, you will need to prove that person’s liability. Unless a special exception applies to your case, you or your Orange County personal injury lawyer will need to establish that the defendant was negligent based on a demonstration of evidence. Proving negligence typically requires four elements: duty, breach, causation and damages. Establishing these elements requires a preponderance of the evidence; enough evidence to establish the defendant’s liability as more likely than not to be true.

  • Photographs
  • Crash reconstruction
  • Witnesses
  • Police reports
  • Medical records
  • Expert testimony

Evidence during a personal injury case can refer to anything that demonstrates someone’s fault for the accident and injury. Evidence is a critical part of your claim. It is what will allow you to prove someone else’s liability. You may also be able to establish a personal injury case on the grounds of negligence per se, intent to harm or strict liability. These are other liability laws that may not require proof of the same four elements as a standard negligence case. A strict liability lawsuit, for example, does not require you to prove the defendant’s negligence to establish liability.

Settlement vs. Personal Injury Trial

Who makes the liability determination will depend on whether your case settles or goes to trial. The majority of personal injury claims in California settle. During a settlement, the insurance company will determine liability. If the insurance company reviews all of the evidence you submitted and determines its policyholder is not liable, it will deny benefits. If an insurance investigation does find the policyholder liable, the insurance company will offer a settlement for your losses.

Some personal injury cases have to go to trial. This is most common for cases with complications, such as liability disputes or catastrophic personal injuries. If your claim goes to trial in California, it will no longer be the insurance company that decides liability. This task will instead go to a jury. The jury will listen to your side of the injury claim as well as the defendant’s side. Then, the jury will determine liability based on who is more likely to have caused the damages in question. For assistance dealing with liability during a personal injury case, contact an experienced attorney.

Covid 19 Update: We are accepting new cases and we handle everything electronically and remotely, so our clients never have to leave their homes.