In any personal injury accident, one of the first questions asked is usually: "Who is at fault?" In legal terms, this is called determining liability. Determining liability for an accident or injury is vital to the entire lawsuit because the liable party will be held responsible for compensating the injured party through a negotiated settlement or court order (eg. jury verdict).
The first question you may have is: "Who is responsible for determining liability?" The answer to that question varies depending on the circumstances, but in general, there are a number of different parties arguing over which party is liable for the accident or injury.
For example, if two vehicles are involved in an accident, each driver is likely to argue that the other driver is at fault. If either of the drivers hires a personal injury attorney, their attorney will review the facts of the case and argue that their client is not liable for the accident. Additionally, the drivers likely carry car insurance, which leaves the burden of determining and arguing liability to the insurance company.
The insurance company will usually conduct its own investigation into the accident and make a decision on its own regarding liability. Because the insurance company has an incentive to pay out as few claims as possible, it is likely to argue that the driver it insures was not a fault for the accident and does not owe any compensation. If the parties cannot come to an agreement on liability, they may be forced to settle their dispute in court by filing a personal injury lawsuit.
What If More than One Person Is at Fault?
It is not always the case that a single person is at fault for an entire accident or injury. Sometimes, accidents involve several people. For example, several careless drivers could cause a traffic accident involving multiple cars. In that case, the law in most states requires any one of the liable parties to fully compensate the injured parties. The injured parties do not have to prove liability against all responsible parties. It is up to the responsible parties to determine amongst themselves how to share in liability.
In some accidents, neither party is completely free of responsibility. For example, let's say a pedestrian jaywalks across a street and is struck by a speeding car. The driver of the vehicle is partially responsible for the accident because the driver was speeding and struck a pedestrian. However, the pedestrian shares in responsibility for not checking traffic or crossing at a designated crosswalk. In this case, both parties can be held liable using what is known as comparative liability or comparative fault. Comparative fault allows for liability to be assigned to both parties in terms of a percentage. In the example above, if the speeding driver is determined to be 70% at fault for causing the accident, the driver will be responsible for compensating only 70% of the pedestrian's injuries rather than the full amount.
How you prove liability is dependent on the circumstances and facts of the accident. Proving liability may involve police reports, eyewitness testimony, sworn affidavits, or any other number of things that can show cause of an accident. Ultimately, it may come down to the skills and experience of a personal injury attorney to prove liability for an accident. At Arnold & Itkin, our personal injury attorneys have won over $1 billion in verdicts and settlements for clients in over 40 states. We have the knowledge and experience to handle any type of personal injury claim. If you have been injured in an accident, contact us today to discuss your legal options.