It can be difficult to determine who is responsible for an injury or accident. This is often called “liability”. However, it all depends on whether the person was negligent or careless. It is easy to say that the business or person who caused the accident must compensate you for your injuries. Before you can reach that point, however, you need to determine who was legally responsible.
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How to determine legal liability
Accidents are often caused by negligence. The rule of thumb is that if one party in an accident was less cautious than the other, the less attentive person must compensate for at least part of the damage suffered by the more responsible. Learn more about Negligence or the Duty of Care.
This rule of carelessness and one or more simple propositions determine the legal liability for most accidents.
The person responsible for the accident may not be held liable if the injured person was injured in an accident.
In the event that the injured person was also negligent, the amount of compensation for him or her may be reduced to the extent such carelessness was also the cause of the accident. This is called comparative negligence.
Employers may be held legally responsible if a negligent worker causes an accident while working for another person.
Property that is unsafe because it was poorly constructed or maintained can cause an accident. The owner of the property is responsible for the carelessness in maintaining the property.
A defective product can cause an accident. Both the seller and the manufacturer are liable for the injury, even if the victim doesn’t know who created or allowed the defect. For more information, please see the Proving a Defective Products Liability Claim.
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Fault when more than one person is at fault
If more than one person is at fault for an accident, such as if multiple careless drivers cause a crash, the law in most states says that each of them is responsible for paying you full compensation for your injuries. The responsible parties will then have to decide whether they should each reimburse the other.
The rule that you can collect from any responsible person has a few important benefits. You can file a claim against the insured person even if one of the liable persons is insured. Even if you have insurance for both, your claim will only be settled with one company. Consider who might be at fault and inform them that you are considering a claim for damages. To find out who to notify, please see Personal Injury Claims: Notifying Responsible Party. You will then file a claim against one of the insurance companies, depending on what information you have about the accident or which company is responsible.
How your own carelessness affects your claim
Even if you are partially responsible for an accident and were negligent, most states allow you to receive at least some compensation from any other party who was partly or fully responsible. Comparing your carelessness to that of another person will determine the amount of their liability for the accident. The amount of damages that result from the accident is determined by the person’s percentage of liability. This rule is known as comparative negligence.
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Restrictions by the State on Compensation if You Are Careless
Depending on where the accident took place, there are three different methods of applying comparative negligence. You can recover compensation for your injuries from the state that is more generous. This applies regardless of how much you were at fault. However, most states have a more strict rule that you cannot recover any compensation if your negligence was more than 50% responsible for the accident. A few states are more strict than others and won’t let you recover compensation if your fault was greater than that of the other parties involved. Or worse, if your carelessness contributed to the accident. This is known as “contributory negligence.” The rules for your state can be found in How to Win Your Personal Injuries Claim by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).