Exploring Liability in Personal Injury Law
When a person becomes injured as a result of someone else’s negligence or recklessness, either on the road, in the workplace, or during a surgical procedure, the person who caused this bodily harm resulting in permanent physical injury is known as the “liable” party. A Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer should be the one to advise clients on the steps to take when someone else is liable for their pain and suffering.
The Statute of Limitations is ever-present
When a person sustain injuries due to another’s negligent and/or reckless behavior, this is not only inconsiderate, but may be grounds for litigation. A Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer who practices Personal Injury law will be the one to determine the legal route that best compensates a client who sustained permanent, or even catastrophic, life-threatening injuries. An attorney with experience can navigate the legal system on your behalf when things become less straightforward and require the knowledge of a professional. This is why when a person becomes injured as the result of an accident for which they were not at-fault, it’s necessary that they act as quickly as possible to retain legal representation.
As we’ve discussed in previous articles, specifically Exploring the Statute of Limitations in the State of Florida, The Statute of Limitations may begin as soon as the accident occurs, unless there are specific circumstances that would allow for a reasonable delay. In Exploring the Statute… we established the proper use of the Discovery of Harm rule:
“[…]The Discovery of Harm rule can be applied successfully in the instance of a medical malpractice claim made due to the actions of a surgeon who left a surgical tool or other medical equipment (gauze, syringe, etc.) inside the patient’s body after performing a surgical procedure. If this was not discovered until months or years later when the victim began to experience unfamiliar pain, swelling and/or sustained a life-threatening infection due to the surgeon’s negligence in leaving a foreign object in the body.”
Wait! There’s more than one type of liability?
Yes! Lawyers are frequently asked this question and clients are surprised by such a complicated answer. There are multiple types of liability, and which one applies to a specific case is determined after details of the accident that caused the injury are clearly determined during Discovery. The four types of liability we’ll cover in this article are as follows:
- Premises liability
- Social host liability
- Trucking carrier liability
- Hit-and-run liability
1. Premises liability
From a slip-and-fall at one of Florida’s busy shopping malls to a day at one of our beautiful museums or zoos ending under tragic circumstances, the one thing these accidents may have in common is that the business, as well as the property owners can become liable for any injuries sustained on their premises during normal business hours (after hours accidents could bring litigation as well, if employees required to work late sustain injuries while on the job).
For example, if a shopper at a mall slips and falls because the ‘Wet Floor’ sign was not posted, the mall becomes liable for the injuries (a herniated disk or knee injury for example) sustained on their premises.
While homeowners can certainly be held liable for injuries in certain situations (drowning accidents, negligent security, and underage drinking), liability will ultimately depend heavily upon the law laid out in the state the accident occurred. When the scene of the accident does not occur on public property, different laws apply. The laws that apply to injuries that are sustained by guests visiting a home as opposed to injuries sustained at a place of business are known as social host liability and will be discussed in the next section of this article.
2. Liability of social hosts
Quite a few states have enacted set laws that hold a person hosting a private party, that also intends to serve alcohol, liable for alcohol-related injuries sustained as a result; this law namely applies to social hosts who allow minors to drink while under their roof, but can also apply should they allow an adult of-age to drive after consuming alcohol on their property. Not only can the party host be held liable for injuries or fatalities that may occur as a result, but they also make themselves responsible for any injuries or fatalities an intoxicated minor caused while knowingly under the influence.
Most social host specific laws are more often enacted to reduce the rate of drunk-driving accidents, injuries, and deaths sustained by minors who should not have been served alcohol by an adult in the first place. As previously mentioned, there are also some states that extend this liability to party hosts who serve alcohol to those of legal age to consume alcohol as well.
The state of Florida is specific in it’s practice of holding any vendor (bar, restaurant, club) that serves alcohol to a minor responsible (“liable”) but has not as of 2019 extended this law to private citizens who choose to serve alcohol to minors under their own roof, or at private gathering they host.
3. Trucking carrier liability
In our extensive FMCSA blog series we discussed the various laws surrounding trucking liability at length, however, it’s important to summarize the liability specific to trucking carriers going into the new year:
“A great deal of truck driving is federally regulated, and drivers must consistently abide by a specific set of rules and standards laid out for them before they can perform their duties. These rules are put in place by the FMCSA (“Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration”).”
This specific set of rules ranges from the number of licenses permitted to be held by a truck operator (one license in the driver’s home state only), physical and medical requirements that govern a high standard of health and safety (ten-hour breaks between shifts are required by law to avoid fatigue-related trucking accidents), and special training outside of standard vehicle knowledge, specific to trucking.
4. Hit-and-run liability
The legal consequences of a hit-and-run are far more nuanced and much more serious than standard traffic accident laws would suggest on paper; a lawyer with experience in hit-and-run accidents and their tragic outcomes is best suited to these types of cases, especially if a wrongful death occurred as a result. It’s best not to trust a lawyer who hasn’t been “in the trenches” with the extent of the injuries seen as a result of a hit-and-run accident. The biggest civil consequence in Personal Injury cases in relation to a hit-and-run accident is being able to obtain “punitive damages” on behalf of a client.
These damages are made available to the plaintiff in the case when the party at-fault (the “defendant”) is found to have driven in such a reckless manner that it’s considered enough to cause serious bodily harm. If a driver acts in a manner that can be considered careless, such as fleeing the scene of an accident before any contact information can be exchanged, they may be held liable for fleeing the scene of an accident in order to avoid being penalized for what they knew were negligent actions.
Aside from the high cost of medical expenses for injuries sustained by a victim due to the negligent behavior of a defendant found to have committed the hit-and-run, the ability to obtain punitive damages on behalf of a client who was injured in a hit-and-run accident are calculated in two different ways:
- In proportion with the defendant’s lack of moral conduct.
- By how much it would take financially to punish the defendant for their lack of morality in committing the act; this calculation is usually considered the most important in a civil hit-and-run trial. If the defendant shows little to no remorse or doesn’t appear to have morals, in this instance, the judge may impose the highest amount of damages to be paid under the law in order to properly punish him or her for their actions.
Experience, empathy, and ethics
There are far too many ways one can sustain injury by no fault of their own; being rear-ended, entrusting a doctor who turns out not to have the patient’s best interest at heart, or unsafe workplace conditions can all lead to bodily harm that couldn’t be foreseen.
Accidents resulting in permanent injury have become a hazard of living in a society where others’ behavior becomes careless, and their actions negligent, without considering the safety of those around them and how their injurious behavior can destroy the life of another. When this irresponsibility does occur, the party at-fault is considered “liable” (and if the case goes to trial, they’d be known on paper as the “defendant”) and the injured party must retain a lawyer that understands the effects of another’s negligence on the life of an injured victim firsthand.
A winning combination of experience, ethical conduct, and empathy is found in the most experienced, senior lawyers who place clients over cash and stick with those in need for the long haul, in the trenches from Discovery through trial if necessary, throughout the healing process.