Our Lawyers Explain How to Establish Liability in a Personal Injury Case
If you have any questions about negligence and liability in personal injury cases, don’t hesitate to reach out to Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. Liability is a party’s legal responsibility for harmful conduct. In your personal injury claim, a party’s liability gives you the right to demand that they compensate you for your physical, emotional, and financial injuries.
Set up a free consultation through our online form or by calling (213) 236-2900. We accept cases on a contingency fee basis. There are no upfront fees. You don’t pay us unless we win your case.
Fault vs. Liability in Chicago
Don’t confuse fault and liability during your personal injury claim. The party at fault is the person who caused a dangerous accident. But the party who is liable under the law might not be the at-fault party. This difference is why it’s essential to work with a lawyer. An experienced personal injury attorney thoroughly investigates the accident and looks for other parties who might be liable for your injuries.
Theories of Liability
Theories of liability are the different legal reasons why someone might be responsible for your injuries. The most common theory of liability is negligence. In most personal injury cases, you’ll try to prove someone’s negligence caused you harm. But you can bring claims for compensation based on other theories too. You might file a claim arguing someone caused your injuries through a breach of an express or implied warranty, a breach of contract, misrepresentation/fraud, or strict liability. These other theories of liability often come up when you’re hurt because of a defective product.
Fault-Based Liability vs. Strict Liability
In most personal injury cases, a party is liable because they or someone they have a relationship with caused the accident. The party is liable because of negligence or other wrongful conduct. This is known as fault-based liability. In comes down to someone doing something wrong. But there’s also something called strict liability. Under strict liability, a party is liable under the law without doing anything wrong. This comes up most often in product liability cases. A manufacturer might be liable for their product hurting someone, even if the manufacturer wasn’t negligent.
Who Might Be Liable in a Personal Injury Case?
Because there’s a difference between fault and liability, the party responsible for compensating you might not be the same party that hurt you.
- The Negligent Party: Sometimes, the person who was at fault for the accident is also the liable party. You’ll pursue compensation directly from the at-fault person. For example, if a driver in their own personal vehicles causes a crash and your injuries, then that driver is liable. You’ll pursue compensation through their auto insurance policy.
- The Negligent Party’s Employer: Employers can be liable for injuries an employee causes in two ways. The employer might have negligently hired and retained that employee. For example, maybe a trucking company hired a driver who had multiple speeding tickets and minor accidents on their record. The trucking company knew or should have known that person wasn’t a safe and responsible driver. Or, the employer might be vicariously liable for their employee’s actions because of the legal doctrine of respondeat superior. This Latin phrase means “let the master answer.” The person in charge is responsible for your injuries.
- The Negligent Party’s Parents: Parental liability is limited, but it might be available in your case. Under Illinois’ Parental Responsibility Law, parents or legal guardians can be liable for injuries and property damage that their children willfully or malicious cause. Also, parents are only liable for actual damages up to $20,000, or up to $30,000 if there’s a pattern of the minor willfully or maliciously causing harm. For example, if a teen dropped a large rock from an overpass onto your car, which broke through your windshield and injured you, then you could also hold their parents responsible for your injuries.
- The Person Who Lent the Negligent Party a Dangerous Object: In Illinois, a person who implicitly or explicitly allows someone to use a potentially dangerous instrument can be liable. We have to show the owner of the instrument gave the negligent party permission and knew or should have known they were likely going to use the instrument in a harmful way. For example, we might argue negligent entrustment if someone lets an inebriated person borrow their car. The vehicle owner knew or should have known an intoxicated person would drive erratically and possibly cause a serious crash. But the legal doctrine negligent entrustment isn’t just for cars. It can apply to other objects, even those that aren’t inherently dangerous.
- An Alcohol Provider: Under Illinois’ Dram Shop Act, or Liquor Control Act, a business that provides alcohol to an intoxicated customer might be responsible for injuries that customer causes. If you’re injured by someone you learn was impaired by alcohol, talk with a lawyer right away. We investigate where that person obtained their alcohol and when. We can hold a restaurant, bar, club, or store responsible for selling alcohol to someone who was intoxicated, even if that wasn’t obvious at the time. But Illinois’ Dram Shop laws don’t apply to social hosts who serve people over 21 years old. We can only try to hold a host responsible if they served someone under 21 years old.
- A Manufacturer or Retailer: You might learn through an investigation that your injuries were caused by a dangerous and defective product instead of a negligent person. For example, a vehicle’s defective brakes might have caused the motorist to run a red light and hit your car despite the driver trying to stop. When we find a product was defective and caused the accident, then we will investigate the supply chain for that product. We might hold the manufacturer, distributor, wholesaler, retailer, or another business liable.
More on Vicarious Liability
Vicarious liability is a significant legal doctrine, and it applies to many personal injury cases. To hold someone vicariously liable for the at-fault party’s conduct, you have to prove there’s an employer-employee, principal-agent, or master-servant relationship. This doctrine is used to hold employers responsible for their workers’ actions a lot. But it isn’t just for employers. To prove there’s a principal-agent relationship, we have to establish that the principal controls their agent’s conduct. This requirement is why most businesses aren’t responsible for the conduct of their independent contractors. Then, we also have to prove the agent’s harmful conduct happened in the scope of their relationship with the principal.
How We Investigate Liability
You might wonder how you can figure out if someone other than the negligent party is liable. It can be hard, which is why we recommend partnering with a seasoned Illinois personal injury attorney. We look at several factors that might indicate another person or business is liable for your injuries.
- Age: We look at the at-fault party’s age—are they a minor?
- Vehicle Ownership: We determine whether they were in a personal or commercial vehicle. If the driver didn’t own the vehicle, we figure out who does.
- Employment or Agency: We determine whether they were working at the time of the accident or not. If they were working, we figure out whether they were an employee, independent contractor, or another type of agent for another party.
- Intoxication: We review the police report and other evidence to figure out if they were intoxicated at the time of the accident. If they were impaired by alcohol, we look for where and when they drank.
- Defective Products: If an object was involved in causing the accident, we consider whether that product was defective. It’s important to distinguish between a negligent person and a defective product causing the accident. The person using a defective product might not be to blame.
Joint and Several Liability in Illinois
You might sue more than one person or business during your personal injury case. Multiple parties can be responsible for your injuries. Because of this, Illinois’ joint and several liability law is important. All of the defendants are jointly and severally liable for your medical expenses. Every defendant that’s 25% or more at fault is jointly and severally liable for the rest of your damages. This means they’re all individually and collectively responsible. You can collect the whole judgment from one person. But a defendant who is less than 25% at fault is only severally liable for the other damages. That means you can only hold them responsible for their portion of your damages other than medical costs.
Let us Answer Your Questions About Liability in Your Personal Injury Case
At Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C., we’re here to explain all of the various aspects of personal injury cases, including negligence, causation, liability, and other legal issues. We know Illinois tort law, so we can fight hard for you to receive compensation. You shouldn’t have to worry about learning the law and navigating the court system for the first time. We want you to focus on your recovery. Call us today at (312) 236-2900 or use our online form to request a free initial consultation.