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Negligence Liability: Who is Responsible?

In some legal disputes that arise after an accident or injury, negligence liability may extend to people or entities that were not directly involved in what took place. For example, using a car accident scenario, suppose the incident occurred at 10:30 a.m. on a weekday and that Don, an employee of Acme Office Supply, was driving a company van while making a delivery to a local office building. Under a theory of negligence called "vicarious liability", not only will Don be found at fault for causing the accident with Pat, but as Don's employer Acme Office Supply also could be held legally responsible for Don's negligence in causing the car accident. This is because Acme is accountable for any carelessness on Don's part that might occur in the normal course of his employment duties, including the manner in which he drives while making deliveries for the company.


In personal injury cases, vicarious negligence liability is often claimed to make certain that an injured person can recover his or her damages from the most financially secure and adequately insured party. In the above example, that party is more likely to be Acme than Don.


Keep in mind that the concept of negligence is not limited to the action (or inaction) of an individual. Small businesses, partnerships, organizations, and large corporations may all be held legally responsible in situations where they failed to properly ensure the safety of others. This is especially true in personal injury cases that stem from defective and dangerous products (against product manufacturers, distributors, and sellers) and in "slip and fall" cases (against commercial businesses and corporate property owners).


Negligence: Not in Every Accident or Injury Case


While the concept of negligence liability applies to most types of personal injury cases, certain kinds of injury claims will use a different rule of fault called "strict liability." If you are injured by a defective product, or through certain inherently dangerous activities like the shipping of toxic chemicals or the keeping of a dangerous animal, your case will likely proceed under this legal theory. While the rules are different from those in negligence cases, the good news is that when compared to negligence claims, a plaintiff in a "strict liability" personal injury case does not ordinarily need to show that the defendant was at fault -- only that the product or activity was unreasonably dangerous, and plaintiff's injuries were the result. (More about "strict liability" in defective product cases)

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