Understanding Different Theories of Liability in Personal Injury Cases

When you have been injured in an accident or in any other incident and someone else is liable, it is critical to understand the different theories of liability that could apply to your personal injury lawsuit. Some types of personal injury claims can have more than one theory of liability. In such circumstances, your Rochester personal injury attorney can discuss whether you may be able to assert more than one theory of liability in your lawsuit, or whether you will need to select a single theory of liability for moving forward with your claim.

Why is it so important to understand the theory of liability under which you are seeking compensation? The theory of liability will dictate the elements of the claim that you will need to prove in order to win your case. There are several different theories of liability that can be applicable in personal injury lawsuits, and you should always work with a Rochester personal injury lawyer as you determine the particular theory of liability under which the defendant you are suing may be liable.

The theory of liability in a particular case will also be based on the type of personal injury and the specific facts surrounding your case. Generally speaking, personal injury lawsuits tend to fall under one of the following three theories of liability: negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. We will provide you with more information about how each of these could be applicable.

Auto Accidents in New York and Insurance Claims

Many personal injury claims are auto insurance claims following a motor vehicle crash in New York. Since New York is a no-fault state, there is no theory of liability when an injured person gets hurt in a car accident and files a first-party claim through their personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. Instead, in a no-fault state like New York, unless a party suffers “serious injuries” as defined by New York law, then there is no need to assert a theory of liability or to prove fault since all parties will seek compensation through their own PIP coverage.

Negligence in Car Crashes and Other Personal Injuries

While New York auto insurance claims do not require a theory of liability, car accident cases in which a person sustains a “serious injury” do require a theory of liability if the injured person wants to file a lawsuit. To be clear, you must have a “serious injury” to be eligible to file a car accident lawsuit in New York, and in nearly all cases, the injury victim will argue a theory of negligence.

Negligence is a common theory of liability in many different types of personal injury lawsuits, including but not limited to: 

  • Motor vehicle collisions involving a “serious injury”;
  • Boating accidents;
  • Medical malpractice;
  • Negligent security;
  • Slip and fall accidents;
  • Premises liability lawsuits more generally;
  • Pedestrian accidents; and
  • Motorcycle accidents.

It is critical to determine the precise elements you will need to show in order to prove liability in your case. Generally speaking, however, most negligence claims require a plaintiff to prove the following:

  • Defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  • Defendant breached the duty of care by being negligent (which often includes any careless act or failure to act that would be unreasonable to a reasonable person);
  • Plaintiff suffered an injury; and
  • Plaintiff has damages.

Strict Liability in Rochester, NY Personal Injury Cases

Strict liability is a theory of liability in which an injured plaintiff does not have to prove that the defendant was negligent or careless. Instead, the defendant, by virtue of his or her (or its) role in the plaintiff’s injury, can be liable. This theory of liability is most common in dog bite cases and in product liability lawsuits. 

In a New York dog bite lawsuit, a plaintiff only needs to prove that the dog owner was in fact the owner of the dog, that the dog had dangerous tendencies (that it was a “dangerous dog”), and that the plaintiff sustained an injury with damages. Solely by owning the dog and knowing that the dog had previously acted dangerously, the defendant can be liable. In a product liability lawsuit, solely in designing, manufacturing, or marketing a product, that designer, manufacturer, or marketer can be liable if the product causes injuries to a consumer.

Breach of Warranty in Product Liability Lawsuits

Some product liability lawsuits can involve a theory of breach of warranty. You should discuss this option with your personal injury lawyer if you were injured after using a defective consumer product.

Contact Our Rochester Personal Injury Lawyers

Determining the theory of liability under which to build your personal injury lawsuit can be extremely complicated, but one of the experienced Rochester personal injury attorneys at our firm can assess the facts of your case today and help you to develop the strongest strategy for winning your claim. We are committed to providing tailored and experienced representation to every personal injury plaintiff, and to working together with injured plaintiffs to build strong and compelling cases for financial compensation. Contact King Law today to get started on your claim with one of our personal injury lawyers in Rochester.


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