Fault: Who is liable for causing the accident?
In an accident claim, you must prove the fault of the other person or party. Proving fault is not always simple. Depending on the accident, there could be more than one party at fault. If you cannot prove fault, you will not receive compensation from the other party. This section will help you understand the concept of fault and how you can prove fault in an accident claim.
Accident Liability: The law
The law determines fault using a simple formula: A person is at fault if he or she is careless and the careless conduct has resulted in an accident. If the victim was also careless, then the victim is also at fault and is held responsible for at least some of the injuries. In effect the law determines fault by application of common sense rules.
- If the person has a duty but breached that duty, then the person will be at fault. However if the injured person had a duty but breached that duty, then the injuring party may not be at fault unless he or she too had a duty.
- The person who has been injured can also be partly at fault for his or her injuries. In such cases the compensation can be reduced to the extent of their fault percentage.
- The employer can be held liable for the accidents caused by an employee.
- The owner or possessor of a property can be held liable for the injuries suffered by a person on that property if improper maintenance contributed to the accident that resulted in the injuries.
- If a person is injured by a defective or malfunctioning product, the manufacturer, seller and other involved in the design, manufacture and sale of the product will be at fault.
Multiple parties at fault
Many a times, there can be more than one party who is at fault. In such cases, all of them will be liable for the injuries. This increases the chance of the injured person getting full compensation. In many states, if there is more than one party at fault, each of them will be liable for the entirety of the injuries and they must decide amongst themselves as to how the division of the damages.
In cases where there is more than one party at fault, the injured person can generally choose from whom he wants to collect the damages from. For example if the injured person is awarded $20,000 in damages for his pain and suffering resulting from an accident caused by three drivers, he can choose the to collect it from any of them. This gives him an advantage especially if only one of the three drivers is insured or has sufficient insurance. The insurance company will pay the entire damages and then decide how to collect it from the three drivers.
Victim Partly At fault
Sometimes it may not be the fault of the other person alone. The injured person too may have been at fault to some extent. This is known as contributory negligence – a victim is contributorily negligent if he or she somehow voluntarily contributes to his or her own injury, whether or not his or her participation is intentional. David was walking against a traffic light when he was hit by a van which was speeding. Because of excessive speed, the driver was unable to stop. The driver is likely to be found “negligent” for driving too fast, but David may be found “contributorily negligent” for walking against the traffic light. Depending on the state and how much David “contributed” to his injury, his award may be either reduced or denied.
Some states have adopted the principle of comparative negligence. Comparative negligence divides the liability in negligence to correspond to the percentage of each party’s negligence. Thus, if the injured person is 20 percent negligent, then he or she would be liable for 20 percent of the damages. However states implement this principle in different ways. In some states, if the injured will be allowed to recover without regard to the extent of his or her fault while in others the injured can only recover if his or her fault is less than certain percentage. A few states however bar recovery if the injured is even one percent at fault.