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Understanding Liability and Who Is Responsible

Liability is a term that you hear quite often. However, you may not fully understand what it means with respect to personal injury law. It is important to understand what it means, especially in cases of admitted, disputed, or joint liability.

What Is Liability?

Liability refers to someone or something being legally responsible for a particular incident or problem. Liability creates a legal obligation. Liability takes many forms. A driver who causes a car accident can be liable for the injuries and property damage suffered by other drivers. The amount of liability for all people involved in an incident must total 100%. This means that A defendant could be 80% at fault, and a Plaintiff 20% at fault, or any combination thereof. Liability can even be split amongst many individuals and entities as long as the total amount of fault adds up to 100%..


Responsibility results from the proof of liability and damages. It refers to an obligation to answer in damages for an act done and to make the injured party “whole” for any injury it may have caused. The concept of making a person whole is really a legal fiction since there is no amount of money that will compensate for the loss of a loved one, or a serious permanent injury. Even though money will not always make a person “whole,” it is the best approximation our legal system has come up with.

For example, a driver who caused an accident can be held responsible and made to pay for the injuries and losses caused by that event. If that motorist was driving a company vehicle, the company can also be held responsible for the accident because their employee caused damage to someone while in the course of the employers business..

Determining Who Is Responsible

Determining legal responsibility may seem simple at first glance. There was a car accident that was caused by the another driver. Case closed, right? Not in all circumstances.

The law looks at whether the other driver was using reasonable care, or not, to determine if they were a cause of the accident. Put simply, was this driver negligent? Also, did the other driver have a duty of care?

Duty of care refers to the legal obligation of an individual to adhere to a standard of reasonable care while doing something that is potentially harmful to others. By law, drivers have a duty to use reasonable care while driving so as to not injure other drivers on the road. That means following the traffic laws and driving in a safe manner.

What is reasonable care? This can vary quite a bit. For example, driving 55 mph on the highway is reasonable most of the time. However, driving at 55 mph in heavy traffic or during a rain storm, may not be reasonable.

Liability and responsibility can be confusing for someone who doesn’t work in the legal field. It is best to have an experienced attorney at your side. Our San Jose car accident attorneys are here to help you understand.

Who is liable and responsible for your personal injury? Understanding these two terms is crucial for winning your case.