Liability means something like “responsibility.” In personal injury law, however, its meaning is far more specific.
The term refers to the financial compensation that one person owes another due to their legal responsibility for an injury.
The liable party may or may not be at fault for the injury—sometimes, the law imposes liability on bases other than fault.
Forms of Liability
Louisiana personal injury law recognizes several different forms of liability. Please see below for a few brief explanations.
Negligence is the legal term for “carelessness.” A party is negligent if they breach their duty of care towards someone else. A motorist, for example, might breach their duty of care by following the car ahead of them too closely. A doctor might breach their duty of care by failing to order lab tests when appropriate.
Negligence alone, however, does not generate liability. You need to prove three additional facts to win. First, you must prove that the victim filing the claim suffered an injury. Second, you must prove that the defendant’s negligence is what caused the victim’s injury. You must also prove that, given the defendant’s negligence, the victim’s injury was reasonably foreseeable.
Louisiana is a “pure comparative negligence” state. This means that when more than one party causes an injury, the court will assign each party a percentage of fault. Each party will lose the percentage of their compensation that corresponds to their own percentage of fault.
If you were 15% at fault, for example, you would lose 15% of your compensation. If you were 90% at fault, you would lose 90% of your compensation.
Liability for Intentional Misconduct
Intentional misconduct occurs when the defendant deliberately harms someone or deliberately causes an accident that results in harm to someone. Many acts of intentional misconduct are both crimes and civil offenses. And yes, you can sue someone during a criminal trial.
There is no reduction in damages for comparative negligence for someone who was a victim of another party’s intentional misconduct, even if they were negligent.
Strict liability means liability without fault—or at least liability without the need to prove fault. Following are some examples of strict liability claims under Louisiana law:
- A dog owner is strictly liable for the harm done by their dog, as long as the dog had acted aggressively on at least one prior occasion (the “one free bite rule”).
- Anyone engaged in an ultrahazardous activity is strictly liable for any resulting harm, no matter how carefully they may have conducted the activity.
- Workers’ compensation compensates employees who suffer job-related injuries. The employee does not need to prove their employer was at fault, and they can often recover compensation even if the accident was their own fault.
- Product liability: You can win a lawsuit against the manufacturer or distributor of a product that causes injury without proving fault. You do have to prove that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous.
Strict liability essentially turns product manufacturers, dog owners, and other parties into insurers against the risks they bear.
Vicarious liability occurs when the law holds one party liable for the wrongdoing of another party. As long as certain circumstantial requirements are met, three major types of vicarious liability exist under Louisiana law:
- Employer liability for the wrongdoing of their employees;
- An insurance company’s liability under its insurance contract with its insured; and
- A parent’s liability for the misconduct of their minor children.
In many cases (employer/employee liability, for example), both parties are liable for the misconduct of one of them. The idea behind vicarious liability is to find someone who can afford to pay a claim.
Once the law determines who is liable for a particular harm, the inquiry moves on to the magnitude of the liability. Yes, the defendant is liable, but how much do they have to pay? Louisiana offers the following three types of “damages” (monetary awards for personal injury).
Economic damages include medical expenses, lost earnings, diminished earning capacity, and out-of-pocket expenses.
Non-economic damages compensate a personal injury victim for intangible losses such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and disfigurement, among other forms of injury.
On rare occasions, Louisiana courts will award punitive damages on top of economic damages and non-economic damages. These damages are limited to injuries arising from:
- A DUI;
- Domestic abuse;
- Wrongful death caused by hazing; and
- Child pornography or a sex crime against a minor;
Louisiana courts generally do not award punitive damages for any reasons other than those listed above.
A Lafayette Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Establish Liability
The question of how much liability the opposing party should bear is where a Lafayette personal injury lawyer can really help you. Although no honest lawyer will offer an absolute guarantee, your lawyer might triple or even quadruple the amount of money you bring home.