In personal injury law, ‘liability’ means responsibility for the monetary damages arising from your claim. You haven’t won your claim unless either the defendant accepts liability or a court imposes it. The concept of liability is deceptively complex because it includes many dimensions. 

Grounds for Liability

Personal injury law offers four main grounds for liability: negligence, strict liability, intentional tort, and vicarious liability.


‘Negligence’ is a legal term that means something close to ‘carelessness.’ To win a claim based on negligence, you must prove the following facts:  

  • Duty of care: You must prove that the law imposed a duty of care upon the defendant. Normally, every competent adult automatically owes everyone else a duty of reasonable care—while driving, for instance. A professional, such as a doctor, owes their patients a heightened duty of care that varies according to the circumstance.  
  • Breach of duty: You must prove that the defendant failed to meet the demands of their duty of care, whatever they were. They may have done something they shouldn’t have done. Alternatively, they may have failed to do something they should have done.
  • Damages: You must be able to prove the harm that you suffered, and you must reduce it to a dollar value. Even ‘pain and suffering’ can break down into dollars and cents.
  • Causation: You must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty caused your damages. Causation has two dimensions: actual cause and proximate cause. You must prove that you would not have suffered damages absent the defendant’s breach of duty (actual cause). You must also prove that your damages were a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s breach of duty (proximate cause).  

 You must prove each one of the foregoing assertions to win your claim.

Strict Liability

Strict Liability

In a strict liability claim, your demand is that the defendant bear liability without fault. The classic example is a strict product liability claim. 

In such a claim, the distributor of a product bears liability for the consequences of a manufacturing defect. The same principle applies to a product with a design defect or inadequate warnings. To justify liability, the defect must render the product unreasonably dangerous.

Suppose, for example, that you suffer injury because of a hernia mesh that your doctor used to treat your hernia. Your investigation reveals that the hernia mesh was defectively manufactured. 

The manufacturer, however, is located in India, outside the reach of the US judicial system. Rather than sue the manufacturer in India, you take advantage of the fact that product liability law allows you to sue any party in the product’s chain of distribution.

As a consequence, you sue the product’s distributor, Walgreens. You might be able to hold Walgreens liable for the harm done by the product’s manufacturing defect, even though Walgreens didn’t even manufacture it. It would then be up to Walgreens to sue the Indian manufacturer.  

Intentional Tort

You commit an intentional tort when you deliberately hurt someone or when you act intentionally with reckless disregard for whether you hurt someone or not. 

Someone might commit an intentional tort by causing a car accident in a fit of road rage, by beating you in a bar fight, or by locking you in your bedroom during an argument. 

Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability arises when the law holds one party responsible for the acts of another party. The most common example is employer liability for the consequences of the misconduct of their employees. This system works for the victim because, in most cases, employees cannot afford to pay a personal injury claim.

There are other forms of vicarious liability as well. For example, the law sometimes holds parents responsible for wrongful acts (such as vandalism) committed by their children. 

The Burden of Proof

In a personal injury lawsuit, the burden of proof is on you to prove your claim. In other words, it is you who has to prove that you’re right, not the defendant who has to prove that you’re wrong. But if the defendant asserts an affirmative defense, such as comparative fault, it is up to the defendant to prove that defense. 

You must normally prove your claim against the defendant by ‘a preponderance of the evidence.’ All this means is that you must tip the scales of justice ever so slightly in your favor. You win if the court is even 51% convinced that your side of the story is accurate.

If you claim punitive damages, you must prove your entitlement to punitive damages by a higher standard of proof called ‘clear and convincing evidence. The ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard still applies to your other damages (economic damages and non-economic damages). 

A Lawrenceville Personal Injury Lawyer Can Fight for Your Rights

If you need to assert liability against someone who injured you, a Lawrenceville personal injury lawyer might be able to help you. You don’t need to worry about whether you can afford a lawyer. Under the contingency fee system that most lawyers use, you only pay attorney’s fees if you win. Contact Lawson Personal Injury Attorneys at (678) 446-3655 to schedule a free consultation.