We’re all familiar with the phrase “life isn’t fair.” It’s a lesson that we learn repeatedly throughout the course of our lives, one that never seems to get easier to wrap our heads around. Unfortunate circumstances befall good people who didn’t deserve what happened to them. The good news is that the law serves as an agent to balance the scales of justice. It isn’t a fix for all its problems, and it’s true that our legal system sometimes falls short, it often ensures that people who have been wronged by others do get at least some form of justice.
Though many people tend to associate the scales of justice with criminal matters, it is equally applicable to civil cases or, more specifically, to cases involving personal injury. When someone suffers harm because of another’s negligence, personal injury claims offer the victim a path toward recourse. In many cases, the injured person (called the plaintiff) will file a claim against the person or persons whose negligence led to their injury (called the defendant).
In these personal injury cases, much of the plaintiff’s argument – typically made by a personal injury attorney – seeks to lay out who was responsible or at fault for their damages. This concept is known as liability and it is the cornerstone of many cases that result in compensation for an injury victim.
Looking for Fault While Building a Case
Determining who is at fault for a single injury is not always as simple as it sounds. One injury can have several contributing factors. For example, consider the following scenario. A motorist is driving through a work zone on an interstate when they see an orange barrel blocking the road ahead. The driver can’t change lanes because the driver next to them, who is distracted by their mobile phone, isn’t paying attention to what is happening. The first driver collides with the barrel, which causes them to lose control of their vehicle and strike the median.
In this scenario, who is at fault? Is it the building company who errantly left the orange barrel tipped over on a busy interstate or the other driver who was so distracted that they failed to respond to the situation? Both parties bear some of the responsibility, and this is also true of many types of accidents.
Sometimes fault is clear, sometimes it is shared and sometimes it can only be determined after a plaintiff’s attorney investigates the case. Determining fault is a key part of building a personal injury case. Attorneys will look at the contributing factors in each case they handle, whether it be a vehicle crash, a slip-and-fall case or a workplace injury.
When Fault is Irrelevant
Depending on the circumstances of your case and the insurance held by you or the other party involved in a legal matter, fault might be less of a factor. For example, workers’ compensation programs are “no-fault,” meaning that a worker should be given lost wages and have their medical bills paid after suffering a workplace injury, regardless of who is responsible for their injury.
Depending on the car insurance you have, you might also be guaranteed a certain amount of coverage in a vehicle crash even if you bear some of the responsibility for that crash. Of course, even when some repayment is supposed to be guaranteed, it is not uncommon for an injured person to get less than they were promised by an insurer. Attorneys are also helpful to injury victims to help make sure an insurance company lives up to the agreement they have with the insured.
Many states have laws that determine how much compensation a person receives in a claim based on the percentage of fault. For example, if a jury finds that a plaintiff in a crash was 30 percent responsible for a crash, they can still receive 70 percent of the compensation they seek for damages.
As you can see, there are many nuances involved in determining fault in an injury case. It can vary depending on the nature of the incident, the type of insurance held by an injured person and the specific laws in a state. When you look for an attorney to represent you, make sure they have experience with these types of cases and that they are knowledgeable about the specific rules in your region.
Our legal system is designed to help those who have been wronged and to make sure that those who wronged a victim are held accountable legally and financially. It might not be perfect, but it often balances the scales of justice in favor of the victim of negligence.
Mark Evans is a Missouri trial attorney and partner at the Bley & Evans law firm.