After suffering injuries due to an accident, such as a car crash or slip and fall, one of the first steps in pursuing compensation is determining who was liable. In the state of Florida, being liable for an accident means that an individual was responsible for the accident or the conditions that led to the victim's injuries.
In a personal injury case, proving liability is paramount to securing compensation for a victim. However, proving liability can be challenging without proper counsel. At Weinstein Legal, our dedicated personal injury attorneys are ready to fight for your right to compensation, beginning by establishing who was responsible for your injuries.
Defining Liability in a Personal Injury Case
Liability in a personal injury claim is defined as the state of being responsible for an accident, or the conditions which caused injuries. In a personal injury case, it must be proven that an individual or an entity, such as a business, was responsible for the accident or injuries in order for the case to move forward.
After an accident, a victim's personal injury attorney will investigate the case, discovering all potential at-fault parties and making a final liability determination. In many cases, such as auto accidents, those who are at-fault carry liability insurance. This coverage makes the insurance company accountable for paying any damages, meaning that a personal injury attorney can take the case up against the insurer(s).
However, the insurance company will typically conduct their own investigation to make their own liability decision. When a victim's counsel and the opposing insurance company can't agree on liability, the case often heads to court so that a civil court jury can decide who was at fault.
In order to prove liability in a personal injury case, a victim must prove that the at-fault individual acted negligently. Negligence is any behavior that falls below the standard of care expected of a reasonable person, and causes harm to another person.
There are four key elements of a negligence claim: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
- Duty of Care: A legal duty owed by the at-fault individual to the victim. For example, a driver owes a duty of care to all other motorists sharing the road.
- Breach of Duty: The victim must prove that the at-fault individual breached their legal duty. Continuing with the motorist example, a breach of duty would occur if a driver failed to stop at a stop sign.
- Causation: The at-fault party must be the cause of the victim's injuries. For example, causation is established if the at-fault driver failed to stop at the stop sign, and ultimately t-boned the victim's vehicle, causing their accident injuries.
- Damages: The victim must incur damages stemming from the accident. In auto accidents, damages typically include medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and more.
In the case of auto accidents, duty of care is more easily determined. All drivers are taught the required level of reasonable care to take while driving, including paying attention to the road, keeping both hands on the wheel, and adhering to traffic signals and signs.
However, the appropriate standard of care can seem difficult to pinpoint in different situations. The duty of care can vary in other types of injury-related cases, such as:
- Medical Malpractice: A doctor or other medical professional must provide treatment with the same level of skill and care that a reasonably competent health care provider would provide under similar circumstances. This is measured by current medical standards, as well as practices in the same field or medical specialty. In medical malpractice cases, the standard of care is often established by a medical expert witness.
- Slip and Fall Accidents: A business or premises owner has a legal obligation to keep the area free from known hazards or hazards they reasonably should have known about. They are also responsible for acting within a reasonable time-frame to discover and correct any other dangers as they present themselves.
Once duty of care has been established, it is the job of a personal injury attorney to prove how the at-fault individual breached that duty. This can either be something that the individual did or failed to do, that differs from what a reasonable person in the same situation would have done. This is often proved using evidence gathered at the scene as well as eye-witness testimony.
Negligence Per Se in Personal Injury Cases
In addition to proving negligence, a personal injury lawyer can pursue an at-fault individual for negligence per se. Negligence per se is defined as an act that is negligent purely because it violates a law that has been designed to protect the public.
Common examples of laws that can constitute as a negligence per se claim if violated include:
- Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits
- Speed limits
- Dog leash laws
Negligence per se differs from a standard negligence claim because it negates the aspect of duty of care and breach of care of a negligence claim. With this liability, an at-fault individual is not just negligent, but they are willingly breaking a law that has been put in place to protect others. By breaking an established law, the at-fault individual has already proven that the standard duty of care has been breached.
If you've recently been injured due to an accident caused by an individual you think to be negligent or have acted out of negligence per se, contact a trusted personal injury lawyer today. You deserve compensation for the types of injuries you've suffered.
Personal Injury Protection
When discussing liability in personal injury cases in Florida, it is important to revisit the state's no-fault laws. Florida law requires all drivers to carry a minimum of $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. In the case of an accident, these benefits will cover medical bills and lost wages no matter who caused the accident. However, this is not to say that an individual should not move forward with a personal injury claim.
Under Florida's no-fault statute, PIP coverage will only cover 80 percent of the medical bills incurred as well as only 60 percent of lost wages or income suffered due to the accident. Likewise, PIP coverage is subject to the deductible chosen by the driver. For example, if an individual has the minimum coverage required by law, a $10,000 policy with a $1,000 deductible, then the individual would still be responsible for the first $1,000 in medical bills or lost wages.
If your medical bills and lost wages exceed the policy’s limit, it's time to consider contacting a personal injury attorney. While your PIP coverage stepped in regardless of who was liable for your injuries, you should not be left with debt piling up due to another's negligence. Contacting a personal injury protection lawyer is the first step in establishing liability to move forward seeking compensation.
Determining Comparative Fault
One of the most common questions clients will ask their attorney is, "But what if it was partially my fault?" The answer is, you can still seek compensation. Florida operates under a comparative negligence rule, meaning that even if a victim contributed to the accident, they can still recover damages from the other individual. We see comparative fault in a variety of accidents, including:
- Slip and falls, when a victim was not paying attention or tripped over their own clothing
- Auto accidents, when the victim was speeding at the time of the accident
- Medical malpractice, when the victim misses appointments or neglects doctor's orders
If both parties acted negligently in an accident, the case typically heads to court for a jury to determine how much fault each party contributed. For instance, if one driver was speeding, but the other driver ran a red light and they both collided, they could share fault for the accident. However, the jury might find that the driver who ran the red light was 60 percent at fault and the driver who was speeding was 40 percent at fault.
In this case, the speeding driver could recover 60 percent of their damages, and the driver who failed to stop at the red light could recover 40 percent. For example, if the speeding individual had damages totaling $100,000, they would only receive $60,000. If the individual who failed to yield also had $100,000 in damages, he would recover $40,000.
Understanding Liability in Personal Injury Accidents
After an accident, a victim can be overcome by a plethora of emotions. While recovering from accident injuries, the last thing they should be worried about is proving that the individual who harmed them is legally liable for paying for their medical bills. That's why our clients turn to Weinstein Legal for guidance during such a trying time.
Our dedicated lawyers are ready to fight for a victim's rights to compensation. If you've been harmed due to another's negligence, now is the time to speak with an experienced Florida personal injury attorney. Contact Weinstein Legal today.