What Is Liability?

Liability is legal responsibility for an injured person’s damages. This includes paying compensation for a person’s physical, emotional, and financial injuries.

Liability Is Not the Same as Fault

The person who directly caused your injuries is at fault. They might or might not be liable. Other parties could be liable too. Other parties could be liable instead of the at-fault party. Liability can be complicated.

Theories of Liability

A party can be liable for your injuries based on several personal injury laws.


Most injury victims base personal injury lawsuits on negligence. Negligence is a failure to uphold a duty of care that causes someone harm. People are generally required to act as a reasonable, prudent person would under the same kind of circumstances. This is called the ordinary duty of care. When a person doesn’t behave as carefully as they should, they’re negligent. Negligence doesn’t mean a person intentionally tried to hurt someone.

Gross Negligence

Gross negligence is more serious conduct than carelessness. It means someone acted recklessly or disregarded other people’s safety. A grossly negligent person might’ve acted maliciously or intentionally.

Strict Liability/Absolute Liability

A party might be automatically liable for a person’s injuries. Strict or absolute liability doesn’t require someone to have done anything wrong. The person or business doesn’t have to be careless or reckless. Strict liability is common in product liability and dog bite cases. In New York, building owners and general contractors could be absolutely liable when a construction worker’s injuries are a result of a New York Labor Law violation. A labor law violation is considered a per se breach of duty, aka negligence. This is a common issue in the construction industry.

Breach of Warranty

A party could be responsible for someone’s injuries if those injuries were caused by their breach of an implied or explicit warranty. A warranty is a promise. An implied warranty is a promise guaranteed by law. An explicit warranty is said or written, like in a contract. This theory of liability comes up in product liability cases.

Breach of Contract

A party who doesn’t uphold a contract could cause someone physical or emotional harm. The contract might be oral or written.

What is Causation & How to Prove It

When you have suffered critical injuries caused by another party, you may be ready to fully hold them accountable to recover your damages. However, for your lawsuit to be successful, your personal injury attorney will be responsible for proving that the elements of negligence have been met.

To prove negligence, your attorney must show that the defendant knew or should have known that they owed you a duty of care and breached that duty of care, thereby causing your damages or injuries. However, what is causation, and how can your attorney prove it?

Defining Causation

In personal injury claims, causation describes the relationship between how your injuries occurred and the action before them. Causation is the act that ultimately produces your injuries in a personal injury claim.

Your attorney must prove that the defendant was negligent and that the negligent actions were the ultimate cause of your injuries. For your personal injury lawsuit to be successful, the elements of negligence must be proven:

  • The liable party owed you a duty of care
  • The liable party made a decision or action which reached their duty of care
  • The liable party’s actions or conduct are responsible for causing your damages
  • You suffered injuries or damages because of the defendant’s negligence or misconduct

Types of Causation

Causation in personal injury claims can be challenging to determine; however, getting a knowledgeable personal injury attorney on your side who understands the elements of causation is crucial. These include:

  • Cause-in-fact – Also commonly referred to as actual cause or factual causation, this describes the facts of the case that prove the defendant’s liability for causing the injury victim’s damages.
  • Proximate cause – Proximate causation is not necessarily rooted in fact, but in determining whether the victim’s damages or injuries would have happened without the proximate cause. For example, suppose a driver who was under the influence struck and killed someone. In that case, that driver should have known that operating a vehicle under the influence could potentially cause injury or death.

Examples of Cause in Negligence

Proving cause and negligence can be more complicated than you might think. Some examples of causation in personal injury claims could include:

  • A manufacturer is aware that their product was defective but fails to warn consumers of the risks
  • A homeowner left the gate to their backyard pool open, resulting in a child drowning
  • A property owner fails to make necessary repairs promptly

The specific circumstances of your case, the awareness of the liable party, and the defendant’s intent could all play a part in the outcome of your case.

It should also be noted that New York State operates under a comparative negligence system. The defense may argue that you are partially responsible for causing your injuries. If this happens, your injury settlement could be reduced in proportion to your percentage of the blame.

How Do You Prove Causation?

Personal injury claims require your attorney to prove the defendant is responsible for causing your injuries and subsequent damages. However, to win your case, you will be tasked with establishing liability based on a preponderance of the evidence.

Examples of evidence that could be used to prove cause in a personal injury claim could include:

  • Medical records
  • Accident and police reports
  • Statements from expert witnesses and bystanders
  • Employment records
  • Photos of your injuries
  • Video of the accident
  • Forensic evidence collected from the scene of the accident

Who Is Liable for an Accident?

The party who is liable for a person’s injuries might be the party who directly caused the accident. It also could be a party that wasn’t involved at the time at all. Direct and indirect liability can be confusing.

The At-Fault Party

The party who directly caused the accident and your injuries might be fully or partly liable for your damages. You might file a personal injury lawsuit against this person.

Vicarious Liability (Respondeat Superior)

Vicarious liability means someone can be liable for another individual’s actions. A person or business might be liable for your injuries through their relationship with the at-fault party.

Employer-Employee Relationship

One of the most common forms of vicarious liability is the employer-employee relationship. An employer is liable for your injuries if an employee who was on duty and acting in the scope of their employment at the time of the accident caused you harm.

Hospitals and Medical Facilities

Hospitals and medical facilities that employ doctors, nurses, and other health care providers can be responsible for their employees’ medical negligence.

A Note About Independent Contractors

One of the ways in which hospitals and other employers escape liability for someone who acts on their behalf is to work with independent contractors and not employees. Businesses are not usually liable for an independent contractor’s conduct. We have run into this issue before and take a close look at the actual working relationship between the two parties. It might be that the business treats the person as an employee and intentionally mislabeled them.

Principal-Agent Relationship

The principal-agent relationship is similar to the employer-employee relationship, though the two parties might not be engaged in a direct employment situation. The agent must have hurt you while acting in the scope of their activity for the principal or at the direction of the principal.

Negligent Entrustment

A party can be held liable for another person’s actions if that party entrusted an instrument to the person knowing that the instrument would be dangerous in the person’s hands. The party gave or lent the other person a vehicle, weapon, or other instrument, knowing that the person would probably act carelessly or recklessly. Negligent entrustment is a common issue when a negligent driver is in a borrowed car.

Parental Liability

In New York, there are circumstances in which parents can be liable for their children’s harmful actions. Parents could be liable based on their own negligence that contributed to the child’s conduct. Parental negligence could be failing to supervise the children or consenting to dangerous conduct. They could be responsible if their child was acting as their agent when the child caused someone harm. Or, the parents could be liable if they negligently entrusted an instrument, like a car or firearm, to a child they knew would use it negligently or dangerously.

Municipality’s Limited Liability

An investigation of your accident may find that a state or municipal government agency is liable for your injuries. This complicates your case. Government entities have limited liability by law because of a legal concept called sovereign immunity. In New York, you can sue, but only if you follow New York’s guidelines. There are strict deadlines for injury claims. You have 90 days to file a Notice of Claim with the appropriate government entity. If the government doesn’t resolve your claim within 30 days, we can file a lawsuit. Some municipalities and governmental agencies have shorter time periods to file a notice of claim.

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Learn More About Who Is Liable for Your Personal Injuries

The party that’s liable for your damages might not be obvious. You might not know the negligent driver was working at the time. You might not realize an irresponsible teen driver was given the car keys by his dad. You might not learn right away that the construction accident involved a Labor Law violation.

You need an experienced New York personal injury lawyer to investigate the accident and uncover who was responsible. Submit your information through the online contact form or call (212) 490-5700 to speak with an experienced attorney at Hecht, Kleeger & Damashek, P.C. We offer free consultations, and we accept cases on a contingency fee basis. There is no up-front fee.

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