Determining legal responsibility for an accident or injury (referred to as “liability”) will usually depend on whether someone was careless or “negligent.” It’s easy enough to say that the person or business that caused an accident must pay for your injuries. But before you get to that point, you must determine who was legally liable.

Most accidents happen because someone was negligent. The basic rule is: If one person involved in an accident can be shown to have acted negligently he or she must pay for at least a proportion of the foreseeable loss suffered by the person injured as a direct result of that negligence.

Legal liability for almost all accidents is determined by this rule, and by one or more of the following propositions:

  • If the injured person was where he or she was not supposed to be, or somewhere he or she should have expected the kind of activity which caused the accident, the person who caused the accident might not be liable because that person had no “duty of care ‘ toward the injured person.
  • If the injured person was careless, his or her compensation may be reduced by the extent such carelessness was also responsible for the accident. This is known as contributory negligence.
  • If a negligent person causes an accident while working for someone else, the employer may also be legally responsible for the accident.
  • If an accident is caused on property that is dangerous because it is poorly built or maintained, the owner of the property is liable for being careless in maintaining the property, regardless of whether he or she actually created the dangerous condition.
  • If an accident is caused by a defective product, the manufacturer and seller of the product are both liable even if the injured person doesn’t know which one was careless in creating or allowing the defect, or exactly how the defect happened.

When there is more than one person responsible for an accident — for example, if several careless drivers cause a crash — the law provides that any one of the careless parties is responsible for compensating you fully for your injuries. The responsible parties must then decide between themselves whether one should reimburse the others.

This rule about collecting from any responsible person provides you with a couple of important advantages. If one liable person is insured and the other is not, you can make your claim against the insured person for the full amount. And even if both are insured, you will have to settle your claim with only one insurance company. Initially, consider everyone you think might be responsible and notify each of them that you may file a claim for damages. Then, depending on what you discover about how the accident happened, or on which insurance company takes responsibility, you will pursue a claim against only one.

How Your Own Negligence Affects Your Claim

Even if you were careless and partly caused an accident you can still get at least some compensation from anyone else who was also negligent and partly responsible for the accident. The amount of the other person’s liability for the accident is determined by comparing his or her negligence with your own. The percentage of liability determines the percentage of the resulting damages he or she must pay. This rule is referred to as contributory negligence. There is no exact formula for deciding and usually the amount will be for negotiation between yourself and the insurance company.