What is Liability?

In any lawsuit there are two things you need to prove:  Damages and Liability.  Damages are easy to understand—they are the harm you suffer, whether it is a physical injury, loss of money or both.  In order to bring a lawsuit you must suffer some kind of harm.  Whether or not your harm is serious enough to warrant bringing a lawsuit is a different question, but it is very important that you suffer some actual loss.  Liability can be a much more difficult question.

Liability means responsibility: who is at fault for your damages?  Sometime liability is clear, like in the case of a rear end collision at a stop-light.  You were stopped and the guy behind you rams into the back of your car.  In that scenario, the other driver is “liable” for your injuries, or in other words, he is “responsible” for your damages.  Unfortunately, liability isn’t always that clear.  In order to prove liability you must demonstrate that someone:

1. Owed you a duty of care;
2. Breached that duty of care; and
3. Was the “proximate cause” of your injury.

Lots of people in society owe you a duty of care: other drivers on the road, medical personnel and property owners, amongst others.  When that duty is breached, like when someone causes a car accident, a doctor makes a medical mistake, or a property owner creates or ignores a hazard on their land, injuries can occur.  The key to any lawsuit is whether that breach of duty was the “proximate cause” of your injury.  Proximate cause basically means that the accident you had was something a person should have expected when they breached their duty to you.  For instance, a property owner that fails to plow and salt their parking lot, which results in ice building up overtime, should reasonably expect that someone might slip and fall in the lot and hurt themselves.  That failure to plow and salt the lot would be the “proximate cause” of a slip and fall injury such as a broken leg.  But not all connections are that easy.

Let’s say you go to a restaurant and order a shrimp salad.  The chef, knowing the shrimp in the fridge is old, serves it to you anyway and you suffer food poisoning.  Here, the chef’s actions were clearly the proximate cause of your food poisoning.  But now let’s say you feel sick to your stomach in the restaurant.  You run to the bathroom, trip over your untied shoe laces and break your arm.  In that scenario the proximate cause of your broken arm is your untied shoelaces, not the bad shrimp.  Even though you wouldn’t have been running if the shrimp hadn’t made you sick, the connection between your broken arm and the shrimp is too tenuous to be considered “proximate” under the law.

At Segar & Sciortino we get calls every day from people injured in accidents and we have years of experience determining whether an injury was proximately caused by someone else’s negligence.  If you suffered an injury and you think someone else may be at fault, give us a call.