How Legal Help In Colorado Helps Determine Liability & Negligence

Determining Liability & Negligence in Personal Injury Claims

In law, liability is a broad term that is relevant to almost every type of duty, obligation, debt, responsibility, or hazard arising by way of contract, tort, or statute. Basically, if you’re doing business with someone in almost any form, liability can be a factor. In personal injury claims, you are often required to establish liability.

If, for example, you have suffered a work injury and wish to make a claim, you must first determine who is liable for your accident: is it the foreman, the company that made the equipment you were using at the time, or a third party?

Similarly, if you were harmed while using a defective product, you must determine who is liable for your injury before you can file a claim: was the product defective when it arrived at you, or did you accidentally damage it while using it or used it in a manner that it was not intended for? If so, then was the damage the result of a poor product design, or was there some error in its manufacturing? Answering these questions will help determine if someone was negligent in their duty toward you, thus establishing who should be held liable for your damages.

What Is Negligence?

The concept of liability is closely related to that of negligence. From a legal point of view, negligence is a failure to exercise the expected care toward you. In the above examples, if you suffer harm because a product malfunctioned because it was somehow dangerous or defective, the manufacturer may be held liable if you can prove they were negligent.

Negligence is a civil tort liability. It means that you can be sued for damages that resulted from your actions. Negligence is different than criminal law in that it involves civil lawsuits rather than criminal prosecutions. Civil laws allow people to get compensation for harms caused by other people.

Proving Negligence

To prove negligence, you must show that:

  • The defendant owed you a duty of care.
  • The defendant breached that duty.
  • That breach caused your damages.

Staying with the current example, a product manufacturer has a duty of care toward their customers. By putting a poorly designed product on the market, they breached that duty, and if that product caused you harm, they may be liable for paying you financial damages.

Does the Defendant Owe You a Duty of Care?

A duty of care arises when the law recognizes a relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff requiring the defendant to act in a certain manner, often with a standard of care, toward the plaintiff. Examples include the duty owed by health care professionals to their patients, teachers to students, event organizers to participants, drivers to fellow drivers, etc.

To determine whether a particular defendant owes you a duty of care, you must consider another factor—that of risk:

  • What risks are reasonably foreseeable?
  • How likely is it that those risks will occur?

Risks are reasonably foreseeable if they are generally associated with the type of conduct that causes harm. For example, if a defendant negligently leaves an open bottle of rat poison unattended in a room where children are present, then the risk of harm from a child drinking it accidentally is reasonably foreseeable.

In contrast, risks are not reasonably foreseeable if they are so unusual or infrequent that it would be unfair to impose a duty upon the defendant to prevent them. For example, if a gas station customer pries a pump open, throws a lit match inside, and causes an explosion, then the gas station owner is unlikely to be held responsible because it is highly unlikely that such an event would ever occur.

In determining whether a risk is reasonably foreseeable, courts look to the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident. Courts also consider the likelihood of injury, the magnitude of the burden on the defendant to guard against the injury, the consequences of placing this burden on the defendant, and more.

Did the Defendant Breach Their Duty of Care?

Once a court determines that a risk is reasonably foreseeable and that the defendant has a duty to protect against that risk, the next question is whether the defendant breached their duty of care.

A person breaches their duty by failing to act as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances. In general, a defendant breaches their duty of care by failing to exercise ordinary care. Ordinary care means that degree of care that any reasonably careful person would observe and follow under like circumstances. The standard of care varies depending on the nature of the activity involved. If the activity involves a high degree of danger, then the standard of care is higher than for activities involving low degrees of danger.

For example, if a driver were driving at night without headlights, then the driver would be negligent for failing to use ordinary care. However, if the same driver were driving during daylight hours, then the driver would only be negligent if they failed to drive safely within the speed limit.

Did the Breach Cause Your Damages?

If it was not the defendant’s actions that actually caused your injuries, then the defendant can’t be held liable for damages. To recover damages, you must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty was the actual cause of your injuries. Actual causation requires proof that the plaintiff would not have suffered harm if not for the defendant’s negligence.

If a defendant’s negligence was not the actual cause of your damages, then the defendant can still be liable for your losses if the defendant’s acts combined with other independent forces to produce your damages. Such independent forces may include intervening causes, superseding causes, new natural conditions, or the failure of a third party to perform a legal duty.

Intervening Causes

Intervening causes are those events that occur after the original defendant’s negligence occurs. An intervening cause breaks the chain of legal responsibility between the person originally responsible for the injury and the injured party. For example, suppose you trip over a rock while in a friend’s garden. Your friend might be held responsible for your injuries, as they have a duty of care toward their visitors in keeping them reasonably safe on the premises they invite them to.

Superseding Causes

Superseding causes are those events that happen after the original defendant’s negligence occurs and that prevent the original defendant from being held liable for the plaintiff’s injury. In the previous example, if a third party had come along and knocked down the rock moments before you tripped on it, thus causing you to trip over it, then the landowner might not be liable for your injuries.

This is the main difference between intervening and superseding causes: an intervening cause does not relieve the original defendant of liability, whereas a superseding cause usually does—at least in part.

New Natural Conditions

New natural conditions are those things that change after the original defendant’s negligence occurs and that increase the likelihood of injury. For example, if someone walks across a busy street and is struck by a vehicle because of a pothole, they may be able to sue the city for failing to maintain its streets properly. If the city had been aware of the dangers posed by cars speeding around the pothole on that stretch of the road, then the city should have taken steps to reduce this risk. Therefore, the liable party might be the city rather than the car driver.

The Failure of a Third Party to Perform a Legal Duty

The failure of a third party to perform a legal duty is when a third party fails to do something they were supposed to do. For example, suppose that a construction company hired by the city builds a defective bridge even though the city had required the construction company to build the bridge according to certain specifications. If the construction company fails to follow these specifications, then it is the construction company rather than the city that may be liable for any resulting damage to the public.

Negligence and Intent

Colorado law recognizes that a person can be negligent without intending to harm another person. Negligence requires only that the person fails to act the way a reasonable person would act under similar circumstances.

For example, suppose you are driving your car at night on a highway and swerve off the road. This action is negligent because you did not act as a reasonable person in the same situation would have acted. On the other hand, if you intentionally swerved off the road to avoid hitting a deer, then you would not be negligent.

Other Kinds of Negligent: Negligent Entrustment

Negligent entrustment occurs when one person gives his property to another knowing that the other will use the property in a way that creates an unreasonable risk of harm to others. For example, suppose a friend asks you to drive her car to work every day. She knows that you are inexperienced at driving and likely to cause an accident. In such a case, in the event of an accident, she could be sued for negligently entrusting you with her car even if she is not in the area at the time of the accident.

Contact Help in Colorado

Personal injury cases often hinge on proving the defendant’s negligence, thus establishing their liability. From the above, it becomes clear that this is often a complex issue. At a time when you should be focusing on recovering from your injury, the last thing you need is stressing over complicated legal issues such as these.

Here at Help in Colorado, we understand the anguish and financial pressure involved with personal injury cases and remain committed to helping all victims assert their rights. That is why we work on the basis of a contingency fee arrangement, meaning that you won’t have to pay us anything before you receive your compensation payment.

Get in touch with Help in Colorado or call now (303) 351-2567 for your free consultation!

Recent Posts

  • Motorcycle Accidents: Who Is Liable for Injury?
    Motorcycle accidents are sadly a frequent occurrence on roads across the United States, leading to a significant number of injuries and fatalities. Many motorcycle accidents involve a collision with another vehicle, most commonly an automobile. With minimal physical safeguards in […]
  • Is Hydroplaning Considered An Automatic At-Fault Accident?
    Contrary to what you may think, hydroplaning has nothing to do with hydroplanes. Instead, hydroplaning, also known as aquaplaning, is a driving incident that may occur while driving on wet roads. Specifically, hydroplaning happens when your vehicle tires encounter a […]
  • Who Is Allowed to Sue in a Fatal Car Accident?
    Recent statistics reveal that over 46,000 people die in car crashes each year in the United States. The traffic fatality rate in our country is currently set at 12.4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. This translates to approximately 99 deaths on […]
  • Can I Dispute Fault In A Car Accident?
    Each state has its laws governing what happens in cases of car accidents. Such laws include the responsibilities of motorists, what is required in terms of insurance, and what happens when it comes to compensation that victims of car accidents […]
  • How Does a Lack of Car Seat Affect Liability in an Accident Claim
    Car accidents killed or injured over 150,000 children under 16 in the US in 2020 [1]. Such accidents can have a long-lasting impact on everyone involved. Yet, despite the increased focus on safety, many people still do not use an […]
  • What Are the Types of Negligence?
    A catastrophic injury is a severe physical injury or health condition that causes permanent or long-term disability, longstanding health consequences, and considerable emotional damage. Catastrophic injuries affect the individual considerably, as they are life-altering and significantly impact their ability to […]