Liability is to a lawsuit what guilt is to a criminal prosecution. If you lose a criminal trial, the court will find you guilty and perhaps imprison you. If you lose a personal injury lawsuit, a court will find you liable for monetary damages. Nevertheless, personal injury lawyers use the term “liability” in more than one way.
Grounds for Liability
On what grounds does a court assess liability against someone who causes a personal injury? Typically (but not always), the nature of the defendant’s misconduct is the measure of liability. The defendant’s mental state is also key to assessing various types of liability.
To say that the defendant’s act was intentional is to say they intended the action itself or the result. Sliding into a car over wet asphalt is not intentional. By contrast, running another motorist into a ditch in a fit of “road rage” is almost certainly intentional.
Application of Intentional Misconduct to Punitive Damages
Punitive damages represent liability for additional monetary damages (beyond standard compensatory damages) that an injured victim might receive from a defendant. The purpose of punitive damages is, as the name implies, to punish the defendant for outrageous behavior.
Texas awards punitive damages for injuries caused by wrongful acts that exhibit “malice.” Essentially, a malicious act is an act where the defendant intended to cause harm.
Intentional misconduct can also give rise to an intentional tort, which is another category of liability. Examples of intentional torts that justify monetary damages include:
- Trespass to land,
- Trespass to chattels (personal property),
- False imprisonment;
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress,
- Conversion (similar to theft), and
- Invasion of property.
Among these, only battery is clearly related to personal injury because it is the only tort that necessarily involves physical contact with the victim.
Ordinary negligence, typically referred to as simply “negligence,” is the most common basis for a personal injury claim. To prove an ordinary negligence claim, you must demonstrate the existence of the following four legal elements:
- The defendant owed the victim a particular duty of care (ordinary caution, for example),
- The defendant breached their duty of care to the victim;
- The victim suffered a physical injury; and
- The defendant’s breach was the foreseeable cause of the victim’s injury.
Once you prove the existence of a physical injury, you can also claim compensation for emotional distress and other non-economic damages.
Negligence Per Se
The concept of negligence per se allows you to prove ordinary negligence by showing that the defendant violated a safety-related law. To establish liability, you must also prove causation and damages.
Gross negligence is an extreme form of negligence, typically where the defendant knew the riskiness of their behavior but acted despite the risk. DUI is a common example.
Application to Punitive Damages
Gross negligence, besides malice, can support a claim for punitive damages.
In many cases, two or more parties cause an injury. two motorists might share fault for a car accident, for example. In Texas, if you are 51% or more at fault, you are ineligible for damages. If your percentage of fault is lower than 51%, however, the court will shave a percentage off your damages that exactly equals your percentage of fault. If you were 30% at fault, for example, you will lose 30% of your damages.
Strict liability is liability without fault. You might be surprised at how often the law imposes this standard on defendants.
The Texas workers’ compensation program compensates employees for work-related injuries. The worker does not have to prove the employer was at fault to win.
If you suffered an injury caused by a defective product, you can sue the manufacturer or any party in the product’s chain of distribution. You need to prove that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous, but you do not have to prove that the defendant was at fault. You can sue a retailer for a manufacturing defect, for example.
Abnormally Dangerous Activities
Texas allows you to sue for any injuries caused by “abnormally dangerous activities,” no matter how careful the defendant was. Construction work using explosives is an example of an abnormally dangerous activity.
Texas follows a “one bite rule” that exempts dog owners from liability if the dog has never shown aggressive tendencies before. After that, however, a dog owner is strictly liable for any injuries caused by their dog.
Vicarious liability arises when one party becomes liable for another party’s misconduct. Following are some examples:
Employers are typically liable for injuries caused by the misconduct of their on-duty employees.
All partners in an unlimited partnership are typically liable for the consequences of the wrongful act of any partner as long as the act was in furtherance of the partnership’s objectives.
Parents sometimes bear liability for the consequences of the wrongful acts of their children, even without negligence.
The Texas Dram Shop Law
Under certain circumstances, Texas holds alcohol vendors and social hosts liable for serving alcohol to intoxicated people or minors.
Most Fort Worth Personal Injury Lawyers Won’t Charge Legal Fees Unless You Win
You needn’t worry that you can’t afford a good lawyer. Since a successful personal injury claim generates income, you can use a percentage of that income to pay your legal bills. And if you win nothing–well, any percent of nothing is still nothing.