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Understanding Fault and Liability with the Help of Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyers

At Banafashe Law, we have decades of experience representing clients in a range of personal injury litigation cases ranging from motor vehicle accident disputes to product liability disputes and more. Unlike many of our competitors, we are committed to truly client-oriented service — as advocates, we understand the importance of having the client involved at every stage of the process, and as such, we engage closely with the client and maintain open lines of communication in an effort to identify their unique goals, issues and limitations (and how that will impact the underlying litigation strategy). A key limitation is knowing who you can sue and how fault will be calculated. The information below outlines the various principles in California Law. Don’t try to learn it all, though--contact an experienced firm of Los Angeles personal injury lawyers today. 

Vicarious Liability and Independent Employer Liability

Skilled personal injury advocates understand that a critical aspect of securing a favorable recovery is in suing the “right” defendants. You might have a winning car accident case, for example, but if you choose to exclusively sue a defendant-driver who has minimal personal assets and no auto insurance coverage, then you may be left without any practical means of securing an adequate recovery that will cover most of your losses.

This is where employer liability comes in, which a Los Angeles personal injury law firm can assist you with understanding and better evaluating your case. 

Employers tend to make excellent defendants, as they have “deep pockets” compared to most individual defendants — in other words, employers tend to have substantial insurance coverage and valuable assets with which to cover the losses suffered by the injured plaintiff in the case. Additionally, the employer may be more willing to settle the case early to avoid the business disruption and potential brand damage caused by extensive litigation.

So, if you’ve been injured by an employee, you should be looking at ways in which to involve their employer. Under what theories can you loop an employer into your personal injury lawsuit? Let’s take a closer look with the help of our expert Los Angeles personal injury lawyers.

Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine (applied in California and all other US jurisdictions) that allows injured plaintiffs to impose liability on the employer of a negligent employee, in certain circumstances. It is a powerful tool in litigation and affords the injured plaintiff significant leeway in bringing a claim against the employer where one might not otherwise stand.

Vicarious liability operates by making the employer strictly liable for any negligent acts committed by their employees within the course and scope of employment. This imposition of liability may occur even if the employer did nothing wrong, per se. The employer can still be held responsible for the damages caused. For example, if a delivery driver doesn’t use their turn signal, and causes an accident as a result, you (the injured plaintiff) could ostensibly bring a claim against the employer on the basis of vicarious liability, despite the fact that the employer had nothing to do with the failure to use a turn signal. The negligence-based liability of the employee-driver applies directly to the employer in question.

The course and scope of the defendant-employee’s employment is a fundamental concern in personal injury disputes centering around vicarious liability issues. If you are injured by an employee who is not “on the clock” and is not doing anything work-related, then it is unlikely that you would be able to show that the employee was acting within the course and scope of their employment. The critical element is whether you can prove that the activities in which the employee was engaged were for a particular business purpose, or were part of the normal responsibilities of their job.

Independent Negligence

There are situations in which the defendant-employee was not actually negligent, but in fact, acted with a heightened level of severity (gross negligence/recklessness or intentional misconduct). As vicarious liability only applies when an employee commits a negligent act within the course and scope of their employment, plaintiffs may find themselves looking for alternative litigation strategies when the employee acted recklessly or engaged in intentional misconduct.

Fortunately, employers can be held independently liable if you can show that they were negligent and that such negligence contributed to your injuries. How does this work in practical terms?

Suppose that you are injured by an employee who becomes extremely upset and punches you in the face when you ask them why a discount is not available for a product. As the employee engaged in intentional misconduct, vicarious liability does not apply.

You and your Los Angeles personal injuryattorney investigate the case further and discover that the employee was intoxicated at the time of the punching incident. You also discover that the employee has a history of similar incidents (for which they have been criminally prosecuted before) while in the workplace setting. Given those facts, you could almost certainly argue that the employer knew or should have known about the violent predisposition of their employee and that they are independently liable for negligent hiring/supervision of that employee. You would have an actionable claim for damages against both the employee and the employer under these circumstances.

Comparative Liability in California

So, what happens if you — the plaintiff — are also at-fault for your own injuries? This can cause quite a bit of confusion for injured plaintiffs, as they wrestle with concerns over whether they are still entitled to recover damages.

In California, injured plaintiffs are still entitled to recover damages even if the court finds them partially at-fault for their own injuries, though the recoverable damages amount may be reduced in accordance with their contribution of fault. These situations are more common than many plaintiffs realize. In an accident scenario, it’s not always clear how fault will be distributed given the circumstances.

Fortunately, California implements a fault doctrine that is favorable to plaintiff interests: pure comparative fault.

How does pure comparative fault work?

While in some states, the contributory negligence of the plaintiff acts to bar the plaintiff from recovering damages, the pure comparative fault doctrine is quite a bit different. The pure comparative fault doctrine does not prevent recovery. In fact, plaintiffs who have committed negligence are entitled to recover damages even if they are 99 percent at-fault for the injuries they suffered in the accident at issue. Partial fault is not a bar. Instead, the recovery of the total damages by a Los Angeles personal injury law firm for you will be reduced in accordance with the fault percentage.

Confused? Let’s explore a brief example for clarity.

Suppose that you are injured while riding a bicycle. You sustained damages equal to $150,000 in total. The court finds that you were 50 percent at-fault for your injuries; however, at the time of the accident, you were distracted by pedestrian traffic, and therefore did not maneuver out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. Though you were significantly responsible for your own injuries, the court would not prohibit you from recovering damages. Instead, your $150,000 potential damages would be cut in half (due to the 50 percent fault contribution), for a maximum recovery of $75,000.

Thus, it’s likely that the defendant (in an effort to minimize their liability) and a Los Angeles personal injury lawyers will argue that you were also negligent and contributed to the accident at-issue — you can overcome these defense arguments by showing that you did not actually commit negligence, and that, even if you were negligent, the negligent acts did not contribute to the accident.

Don’t Take the Blame Unnecessarily! Contact Our Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyers for a Claim Evaluation

We have a proven track record of success as personal injury litigators. Over the years, we have gained a reputation among Los Angeles personal injury law firms as willing and able litigators — we have recovered millions in damages for our clients (through settlement and trial litigation). Our experiences trying cases to conclusion gives us significant leverage throughout the litigation process — quite simply, defendants (and opposing counsel) must treat our clients’ claims with the seriousness those claims deserve.

Curious about whether your claims are actionable, and what steps you’ll need to take to secure compensation? We encourage you to call us at 888-LAW-9991 or complete a case evaluation form through our website to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation with a skilled Los Angeles personal injury lawyer at our firm today.

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