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What You Need to Know About Liability and Negligence


If you’ve been hurt in an accident, you may have suffered serious losses. Medical bills alone can be tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for significant injuries that require ongoing care. You may also be forced to take time off work or lose your ability to work entirely. On top of these costs, a severe injury could cause significant pain and suffering in your daily life. 

You don’t have to face these problems on your own, though. If someone else caused the accident that hurt you, intentionally or not, they might be liable for your losses. Liability is a legally complex topic, so it is in your best interest to consult with a lawyer to determine who may be responsible for an accident. However, understanding what liability is and how it is tied to negligence can help prepare you for your legal consultation.

What Is Liability?

According to the Legal Information Institute, “a party is liable when they are held legally responsible for something. Unlike in criminal cases, where a defendant could be found guilty, a defendant in a civil case risks only liability.” 

Essentially, liability is the term used in civil cases rather than guilt. Civil cases don’t involve criminal penalties or imprisonment. Instead, they determine whether the defendant is responsible for the losses faced by the plaintiff and whether they should compensate them for those losses. 

There are five elements involved in determining liability. The plaintiff must show:

  • The defendant owed them a duty of care
  • That duty was breached
  • The defendant should have known that harm was possible because of the breach
  • The plaintiff suffered injuries
  • Those injuries were caused by the breached duty.

Civil cases do not require the plaintiff to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, they are held to the preponderance of the evidence standard of proof. This means that the plaintiff needs to show that it is more likely than not that these elements were present in their case. If the defendant can’t argue against this preponderance of the evidence, the court will likely rule in the plaintiff’s favor.

Negligence, Strict Liability, and Intentional Torts

In personal injury and wrongful death cases, there are three main ways a party may be determined to be liable: negligence, strict liability, and intentional torts. All three categories may result in liability, but they apply in different circumstances. 


Negligence occurs when a party is assumed to have a duty of care and, by failing to act, does not live up to that duty. A duty of care is the responsibility to act towards others with reasonable watchfulness, caution, and attention. 

Generally, a duty of care is present when someone voluntarily takes responsibility for others. There are many situations in which someone might be negligent by not fulfilling a duty of care, such as:

  • Medical practices: Healthcare professionals are responsible for the health of the people they treat. If a doctor or nurse ignores reasonable standards of care when treating someone and causes their condition to worsen, they have been negligent. 
  • Restaurants: Restaurant employees have a duty to their patrons to make sure food is stored and prepared correctly and to warn people about potential allergens. If they fail to do so and people get sick, they have been negligent.
  • Property owners: People who own property are responsible for making public areas safe to use, keeping people out of dangerous places, and warning people about temporary hazards like slippery floors. If they don’t, they may be considered negligent should people get hurt. 
  • Manufacturers: Manufacturers have a duty of care toward the people who buy their products. They must warn them about potential product risks and ensure the item is reasonably safe to use, or they may be found negligent. 
  • Driving: Whenever someone gets behind the wheel of a vehicle, they assume a duty of care to other road users. They must drive safely and follow road rules, or they neglect that duty and may cause car accidents.

Someone cannot neglect a duty of care if they did not consent to care for the other person. For example, property owners may not be responsible for people trespassing on their land, and doctors are not responsible for the health of people they don’t treat. Furthermore, someone cannot be negligent if they failed to account for dangers that exceeded what a reasonable person would have known about. 

Intentional Torts

Intentional torts refer to harms that were purposefully caused by the defendant. The duty of care of the average person is to avoid actively causing harm to others. In this liability category, the defendant should have reasonably known their actions would cause harm and did them anyway.

For example, an intentional personal injury tort may be filed after the defendant punched the plaintiff in the face and caused a concussion. Whether or not the defendant intended to cause a specific injury, a reasonable person would have known that some damage was likely. As such, the defendant is liable for the harm they caused.

Strict Liability

Strict liability works differently. This category covers issues such as manufacturing defects. A manufacturer does not need to be aware of a fault or danger to be liable for harm it causes. In strict liability, the existence of a significant flaw or risk in a product being sold is considered enough to demonstrate a breach of a duty of care.

Support Your Liability Claim With the Ellis Helm, APC

Determining liability can take time and effort. If you believe someone else is responsible for the accident that caused your injuries, you should reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney. At the Ellis Helm, we specialize in guiding clients in Temecula and the San Diego Metro area through every kind of personal injury and wrongful death case. Schedule your consultation today to learn more about how our expert lawyers can help you build your case, demonstrate liability, and pursue just compensation for your losses.