In order to secure compensation for injuries you suffered in an accident, you must establish liability; that another person or entity (such as a business or government agency) is liable for the harms you suffered. The term “liable” means legally responsible or obligated. Liability for personal injuries is premised on a legal concept called negligence. “Negligence” is the legal term for carelessness, and consists of four distinct elements:

1. Duty: A person or entity must have had a legal duty to behave in a certain way toward the injured person under the circumstances;

2. Breach: The person or entity must have breached that duty by acting or failing to act in a certain way toward the injured person;

3. Causation: The actions (or inaction) of the person or entity must have been the legal cause of the injured person’s injuries; and

4. Damages: The injured person must have actually been injured or otherwise harmed as a result of the actions or inaction of the person or entity, and money damages can remedy these harms.

To learn more about how negligence is evaluated by insurance companies and courts, click here.

Showing Negligence vs. Proving Negligence

How you establish liability for your injuries, and the degree of certainty to which you must do so, depends on whether you are filing a personal injury claim with an insurance company or filing a personal injury lawsuit against the person or entity you believe is responsible for your accident.

If you make a personal injury insurance claim with an insurance company, you must show the adjuster that his or her insured’s negligence was the cause, or at least a partial cause, of your injuries. You do this by sending the insurance company copies of evidence such as medical records, medical bills, the police accident report, and witness statements. The claims adjuster presumes these documents are truthful. In other words, they’re considered to be self-evident. Once you convince the insurance company that their insured was negligent and that this negligence caused your injuries, you will have succeeded in showing negligence. There is no specific formula or evidentiary threshold that you must meet.

Showing negligence for the purposes of settling a personal injury claim is usually much easier than proving that another person or entity is liable for your injuries in court, which requires you to prove negligence by a preponderance of the evidence. This legal burden of proof only applies in a formal personal injury lawsuit. A complex set of rules and guidelines govern which types of evidence may be introduced during trial and how evidence must be presented. Because understanding these rules requires special skill and training, you should never file a personal injury lawsuit without the guidance of an experienced personal injury attorney.

Liability Basics

If you were injured in an accident, you should know keep the following information in mind.

If it is very obvious that another person or entity’s negligence caused your injuries:

  • The insurance company will be less likely to oppose your settlement demand;
  • It will be easier to secure a fair insurance settlement that fully accounts for your injuries and other losses; and
  • You may not need to hire an attorney and file a personal injury lawsuit.

If it is not clear whether another person or entity’s negligence caused your injuries:

  • The insurance company will be more likely to deny your claim;
  • It will be more difficult to secure a fair insurance settlement that fully accounts for your injuries and other losses; and
  • You will probably need to hire an attorney and file a personal injury lawsuit.

This page contains basic information about establishing liability for the purposes of personal injury insurance claims and lawsuits. It may not apply to you, and is not a substitute for consulting with an experienced personal injury lawyer. Only a licensed attorney in your area can give you legal advice about your situation.

Disclaimer: Information provided on this site is NOT formal legal advice. It is generic legal information. Under no circumstances should the information on this site be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal action. Always get a formal case evaluation from a licensed attorney if you think you might have a personal injury lawsuit.