Liability and Damages: Elements Common to All Personal Injury Cases
Every tort claim, whether involving an intentional act, negligence, or strict liability, has two basic issues — liability and damages — prompting these questions:
- Is the defendant liable for the plaintiff’s damages?
- If the defendant is liable, what is the nature of the damage sustained and its extent?
Determining who was at fault, or liable, for an injury is a major issue in every personal injury case. To establish liability, a personal injury attorney will carefully investigate the circumstances surrounding an accident. Even if there is substantial proof (such as a traffic ticket), that one person violated the law, this does not automatically make that person liable. Under tort law, people may not be held liable for every harmful act that they cause, but only for three basic types: intentional acts, unintentional but negligent acts, and conduct that falls within a special category called strict liability.
- Intentional act: Intentional torts are offenses committed by someone who intends to do harm. For intent to exist, the individual doing the harm must be fully aware that his act will result in injury to another person, meaning the act itself must be intentional, not merely careless or reckless. An example of an intentional tort is defamation of character, in which a false statement is intentionally made about another person that causes that person to suffer harm.
- Another type of conduct that a person may be found liable for in a personal injury case is an unintentional or negligent act. The difference between negligence and intentional tort is that negligent acts are not expected or intended, but still result in harm to another person. An example of an unintentional tort in which someone might be found liable is an automobile accident caused by a driver who was speeding or who failed to stop at a stop sign. This negligence, or failure to foresee that injury might occur and to prevent it by exercising proper care (slowing down or stopping) resulted in an injury for which the driver might be found liable.
- Strict Liability. Strict liability, sometimes called absolute liability, leads to liability regardless of whether the harmful conduct was intentional, negligent, or entirely innocent. This type of liability is most commonly associated with defectively manufactured products. In a strict liability case, the person injured has to prove that he was harmed but is not required to prove the negligence of the product manufacturer. Products that come with warning stickers about obvious hazards are labeled that way to protect the manufacturer from strict liability lawsuits.
Colorado personal injury plaintiffs can obtain compensatory damages — reimbursement for reasonable and necessary medical expenses including doctor’s appointments, hospital bills, ambulance fees, pharmacy costs, and rehabilitation expenses; compensation for lost wages and diminishment of earning capacity; and payment for damaged property.
Non-economic damages, including compensation for emotional distress and pain and suffering, also are permitted, although Colorado limits non-economic damages in injury cases at $250,000 or $500,000 if there is clear and convincing evidence that justifies a larger award. The damage cap law, passed in 1986, also allows for adjustments for inflation.
Colorado also caps the amount a jury can award in punitive (exemplary) damages, allowing the judge to reduce them post-verdict to equal the amount of actual damages awarded. This means that an award of $100,000 for actual damages and an additional $300,000 award for punitive damages would be decreased to $100,000 to match the actual damages awarded, reducing a $400,000 verdict to $200,000.
Personal injury cases can seem to be complex, but a qualified Colorado personal injury attorney can help crack the code and help you recover the damages you need and deserve.
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