What is Liability?

Liability is a crucial element of a personal injury case. If a person causes an accident, they are “at fault” for the cause of your injuries and damages. 

However, being at fault and liable are two different legal concepts. A person could be at fault but not be liable. You must prove each of the legal elements of liability before you can recover compensation for your damages.

Under tort law, a party can have legal responsibility for the injuries and damages they cause. Liability is a legally enforceable claim. It means that a party can be held financially liable for damages arising from a breach of duty or obligation to act. However, you must prove by a preponderance of the evidence each legal element of liability.

Several types of liability could apply in a civil lawsuit. 


Negligence is the basis for most personal injury claims. The plaintiff or injured party must prove each of the following legal elements for a negligence claim:

  • The defendant (alleged at-fault party) had a duty of care to the plaintiff 
  • The defendant breached the duty of care
  • The breach of duty was the proximate and direct cause of the plaintiff’s injury
  • The plaintiff sustained damages because of the defendant’s conduct

If you can prove each of the above legal elements, the defendant or liability insurance provider would be legally obligated to compensate you for your damages. 

Negligence Per Se

In most liability lawsuits, the plaintiff has the burden of proving the defendant has liability for damages. However, in a negligence per se case, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant.

If the defendant violated a safety law and injured a victim, the victim may have a case of negligence per se. The law must be enacted to protect the public and carry a penalty for a conviction (i.e., DUI laws, speeding violations, etc.).

Negligence per se only creates a presumption of liability. The defendant can offer evidence proving that their conduct was not the cause of the victim’s injuries. The jury members would decide whether the defendant proved their case.

Strict Liability 

In some cases, a defendant may be held strictly liable for damages caused by their conduct. Strict liability may apply in criminal cases as well as civil cases.

The plaintiff does not need to prove intent or negligence on the part of the defendant. They only need to prove their injuries were the direct result of the defendant’s conduct.

Product liability claims and dog bite claims are two examples of cases in which strict liability often applies. In addition, some criminal acts could result in strict liability, such as rape and intentional violence. 

Vicarious Liability 

When a party is liable for injuries and damages that another person causes, the legal term is vicarious liability. This type of liability requires that the parties have a supervisory relationship. Therefore, the party being held responsible must have been supervising the party who caused the injury at the time of the accident.

Hospitals, stores, and trucking companies are examples of entities often named in civil lawsuits alleging vicarious liability when an employee causes an accident or injury. 

However, employers are not held liable for actions that employees commit outside of their scope of employment. Companies are not responsible if an independent contractor causes an accident or injury while performing contract work for the company. 

Recovering Damages After an Accident or Injury

If you prove the elements of liability, you can recover economic and non-economic damages. The types of damages you can receive include:

  • Physical, mental, and emotional pain and suffering 
  • Loss of income, including future wages and reductions in earning potential
  • Cost of medical care, personal care, and nursing care
  • Reduced quality of life and loss of enjoyment of life
  • Disfigurement, permanent impairments, and disabilities

The amount of money you receive for a personal injury claim depends on several factors. The jury may consider the severity of your injuries and how your injuries impact your daily life. They may also consider whether you contributed to the cause of your injury and the number of financial losses you incurred because of the accident and injury.

Most personal injury claims do not go to trial. Instead, they are settled through negotiations between the parties. A San Diego personal injury lawyer can be an asset when dealing with insurance companies to negotiate a settlement. 

Call Our San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer for a Free Consultation 

If you sustained injuries because of another party’s conduct, you might be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Contact our San Diego office at (619) 777-5555 to schedule a free consultation with one of our San Diego personal injury attorneys.