When trying to figure out who might be responsible for a victim's injuries, the American legal system applies two different approaches. These are known as fault-based liability and strict liability. If you're going to discuss a potential claim with a personal injury lawyer, it can be helpful to learn about each form of liability.
Most topics in personal injury law are covered by fault-based liability. This means there are several standards that must be applied to assessing whether the defendant is liable and how much they owe the claimant or plaintiff.
The first thing that has to be assessed is whether the defendant had a duty of care. A duty of care is a legally recognized obligation to prevent harm from coming to others. For example, a random passerby doesn't have a duty to rescue a drowning person in a river. Conversely, a store that invites the public to visit has a duty to prevent things like slip-and-fall accidents.
Secondly, some negligent, reckless, or malicious conduct must have occurred. If so, there may still be questions about whether the claimant's conduct also contributed in any of these three ways.
Thirdly, the defendant must have been the proximate cause of what happened. For example, it's not uncommon for a driver in a vehicle accident to assert a defense that the weather was the main cause of what happened. A line must be drawn directly from the defendant's conduct to the claimant's injuries.
Finally, provable damages must have occurred. This means that a legally recognized form of harm, such as incurring medical bills due to surgery to fix an injury, arose from the incident. Some courts may also recognize less tangible harms, such as economic losses, pain, suffering, and trauma.
Certain actions lead to what's known as strict liability. This means that if the incident is tied to the defendant's actions, then there's no further discussion about liability.
Strict liability usually applies to situations where society expects a lot from people or organizations. For example, someone rigging explosives for a demolition project is engaged in an activity that is known to be potentially dangerous. Consequently, society wants to make sure they get every detail right before they trigger an explosion. To incentivize proper conduct, strict liability is assigned to make sure parties make their best effort every time to prevent incidents. Strict liability applies to many similar societal concerns, from handling wild animals to manufacturing products.