Fault refers to negligence or breach of duty causing injury to another. In personal injury law, fault establishes liability for the costs of an accident.
In a personal injury case, one of the first steps is determining who is liable for the accident and resulting injuries. In other words, the person or party who is at fault must be established. In some cases, more than one party is at fault.
The person who was injured must prove fault when making a claim for damages. For someone to found at fault, they must have exercised a form of negligence. Negligence refers to carelessness that leads to injuries.
Determining Fault and Liability
Investigating who is at fault in a personal injury accident usually falls on the insurance company of the party who may be liable. If the at-fault party holds an insurance policy that applies to the accident, the insurance company will be responsible for awarding damages.
If the injured person has a personal injury lawyer on their case, the attorney will also investigate the details of the accident and make their own decisions about who is liable. If the insurance company and the injury victim (and their attorney) can’t agree on who is liable, the latter may file a personal injury lawsuit. At that point, the fault will ultimately be determined by a jury in civil court.
Proving Fault Through Negligence
Most personal injury claims are made following the negligent actions of one or more parties. There are four elements of negligence that must be demonstrated for a party to be held liable:
1. The party had a legal duty of care to the injured party.
Everyone holds a legal duty to follow a certain degree of care that keeps others from harm. For example, all drivers hold a duty to other drivers that includes operating their vehicles in a safe manner.
2. That duty of care was breached.
The injury victim must be able to show the at-fault party breached their legal duty.
3. Harm was caused by negligence.
Third, the victim’s claim must show the alleged at-fault party’s negligence caused the victim’s injuries.
For example, a motorist is on their cell phone while driving and they crash into another vehicle, causing a car accident that leaves the second driver with whiplash and a broken leg, the first driver has breached their duty of care. They are at fault for the accident.
4. Damages exist.
The victim must also show proof of damages resulting from the at-fault party’s negligence and the accident they caused. In the example above, the claim would need to include proof of medical bills for treatment of whiplash and broken leg—along with other damages the victim now faces.
Other Types of Fault
Besides negligence, there are sometimes other ways fault can be proven, including through:
- Negligence per se,
- Intentional conduct, or
- Strict liability
With negligence per se, the defendant has violated a law set up to protect the public from harm, such as speeding, talking on the phone while driving, or not properly restraining a vicious dog.
Intentional conduct means doing something to deliberately cause harm to another. Someone can be at fault without intentionally meaning to cause an accident or injuries—but in the case of intentional conduct, the defendant performed an action to purposely cause harm.
Strict liability means someone can be found automatically at fault and liable for damages without proof of negligence or intention to cause harm. This usually only applies in product liability cases or cases involving very hazardous materials like explosives.
Comparative and Contributory Fault
In some personal injury cases, more than one party is at fault for damages. This may fall under a comparative fault or contributory fault.
When both the defendant (accused party) and the plaintiff (the person bringing the personal injury case) are partially at fault for an accident, it’s known as a comparative fault or comparative negligence. If this occurs, each party may be awarded damages based on their percentage of the blame. A judge of the jury assigns this percentage.
For example, if someone is 90% at fault for an accident, their total settlement would be reduced by 10%. If someone is 50% or more at fault, they cannot collect any damages.
Contributory fault (or contributory negligence) is when the victim’s injury was partially caused by their own negligence. A victim may still be able to recover damages if they contributed to their injuries, but they will likely be reduced based on their percentage of blame (as mentioned above).
Need Help Proving Fault?
If you were hurt in an accident, John Foy & Associates can help you build a strong claim by investigating the accident and compiling relevant evidence. We’ve been representing personal injury victims for more than 20 years, and we know what it takes to win cases. Let us help you—starting with a FREE consultation. To get started today, call us any time at 404-400-4000 or fill out the form on this page for your free consultation.