Personal injury law revolves around the idea of fault. While the word fault may remind people of children tattling on a playground, the legal term “fault” has a specific meaning.
Under the law, legal fault often refers to types of negligence:
1. What is the duty owed?
The first step to determining fault is determining whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. When it comes to traffic accidents, for example, all drivers owe one another a legal duty of complying with traffic laws.
This means that if speeding is the cause of an accident, the person who was speeding violated the duty of care. However, duty of care can also depend on road conditions.
For example, a person maybe at fault even while driving within the speed limit. For people who live in colder climates, the standard of care may change based on snow or icy weather conditions. Going 35 mph may still be dangerous.
In slip and fall cases, the standard of care starts with the plaintiff’s right to be on a property. If someone goes into a grocery store, the store needs to provide a safe place for shoppers. If something is spilled on the floor, the grocery store has a duty of care to clean up the mess within a reasonable amount of time.
2. How do courts establish fault?
After determining that a duty was owed, plaintiffs need to be able to show that the defendants did not take the right steps to be safe. In legal terms, this means that the plaintiff needs to show that the defendant breached the standard of care.
Providing this kind of evidence often relies on testimony as well as other documentation. For example, in the case of a car accident, having eyewitnesses testify that the defendant made a right turn on a red light without slowing down is one of the best ways to prove that the standard of care was breached.
In the case of a slip and fall, documentation such as the store’s security cameras might be useful to show how long a mess existed before the staff cleaned it up.
If a mess is present for an unreasonable amount of time, then the store owner may be at fault. If there was no way for the store owner to know about the mess before the plaintiff fell, the store owner may not be liable for the personal injury.
3. Why are the actions of the plaintiff important?
Many states take the plaintiff’s actions or conduct into account when determining fault in a personal injury case. This is called comparative fault.
Being hurt in an accident is not always clearly the fault of just one person. when an insurance company, judge or jury are looking at the facts relative to fault, they consider the actions of both parties.
For example, in a car accident, the defendant may not have slowed down at the red light, but the plaintiff may have not used a turn signal. The plaintiff, therefore, may have also breached the standard of care.
Some states have what is called contributory negligence. This is slightly different from comparative negligence. In those states, the fact that the plaintiff is wrong at all means they are unable to collect damages.
In the case above, a plaintiff’s failure to use his/her turn signal may preclude them from collecting any damages. Fortunately, Arizona law does not preclude a plaintiff or claimant from collecting damages if he or she is partially at fault.
4. How does this relate to damages?
Because fault is something that has different elements, the determination can change the amount of money awarded to a plaintiff.
If a plaintiff is partially at fault, his or her damages will be reduced by the percentage of fault allocated by a judge or jury against the plaintiff.
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If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident, we invite you to give Don Yearin at the Yearin Law Office a call at 480-526-9386 for a free consultation.
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