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What Is Liability?
In a personal injury claim, a defendant bears liability when they assume financial responsibility for the harmful consequences of a wrongful act or omission (failure to act). Texas also imposes vicarious liability and strict liability under certain circumstances. Criminal liability and contractual liability, while important, are beyond the scope of this article.
Most liability is fault-based. Within fault-based liability, negligence claims are by far the most common.
To win a negligence claim, you must prove the four legal elements of negligence:
Negligence rules apply to a variety of claims ranging from car accidents to medical malpractice.
Texas comparative fault applies when two or more parties bear liability for an accident. A court will assign each party a percentage of fault, and it will subtract that exact percentage from their compensation. You lose 25% of your damages, for example, if you were 25% at fault.
There is one important exception—any party who is more than 50% at fault for the accident cannot receive any compensation.
Gross negligence is an extreme form of negligence. There is no “bright line” rule stating the difference between ordinary negligence and gross negligence in every situation. The primary advantage of claiming gross negligence is that you might win punitive damages that way. If you do, they will be added to your compensatory damages as a windfall.
Intentional misconduct occurs when the at-fault party acted with the purpose of harming you. An example would be an unprovoked beating inflicted by a bar bouncer or a car accident caused by “road rage.” Intentional misconduct claims can also support punitive damages claims.
Vicarious liability arises when one party bears liability for the wrongful act of another party. The following are three examples.
Under the ancient legal doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer bears liability for the consequences of a wrongful act committed by their employee or agent as long as the employee or agent was acting within the scope of their employment at the time. An employer might bear liability for a car accident caused by their delivery driver, for example.
Parents can bear liability for the consequences of the wrongful acts of their minor (under 18) children.
An alcohol vendor can bear liability for a DUI accident caused by an intoxicated customer if they served them alcohol while they were clearly intoxicated. An adult social host can also bear liability for the consequences of serving alcohol to a minor (under 21).
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Strict liability is liability without fault. Texas imposes liability without fault under at least four circumstances—product liability, abnormally dangerous activities, dog bites, and workers’ compensation claims.
If a defective, unreasonably dangerous product injures you, you can file a claim against the manufacturer or any party in the chain of distribution, including the wholesaler and the retailer. In effect, a merchant selling a product acts as an insurer of the safety of the product.
You can file a strict liability claim if you suffer an injury caused by the defendant’s participation in abnormally dangerous activity such as blasting, storing explosives, working with high-voltage electricity, disposal of hazardous waste, and many others. You can win your claim even if the defendant took all reasonable safety precautions.
Some states allow dog bite victims to sue the dog owner for a dog bite, even if the dog never acted aggressively before. Texas applies the “one bite rule,” whereby “Fido has never acted aggressively until now” is a valid defense.
It is not negligent to continue owning a dog that has bitten before. After the first bite, however, the dog owner is strictly liable for the harm caused by any further aggressive behavior. Homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policies usually cover dog bite claims.
Workers’ compensation compensates employees for work-related injuries. You can win a workers’ compensation claim without proving fault, but your compensation is limited to a portion of your medical bills and lost wages.
A wrongful death claim arises if someone dies in an accident caused by someone else’s wrongful behavior. The general rule is that close relatives and the estate executor can win a wrongful death lawsuit if the deceased victim could have won a personal injury lawsuit had they lived. As such, the same liability rules apply to wrongful death claims that apply to personal injury claims.
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Can you afford a lawyer? Yes, you can – personal injury lawyers only charge you if they win your claim. Nevertheless, you might not know your claim’s strength until you discuss it with a lawyer. Act now to schedule a free initial consultation with an Austin personal injury attorney from FVF Law, contact us or call us at (512) 982-9328.
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