Liability Before Damages – Sometimes Accidents Just Happen!

Accidents are a fact of life. They happen in every aspect of life from home, to the road, to work and every point in between. Sometimes, they result of the negligence of another. Other times, there is nobody to blame. Accidents just happen.

When people get seriously injured, there are all kinds of harms that ensue. In a personal injury action, these are referred to as damages. There are a wide variety of damages that may be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit.

Most prominent among these are medical expenses and lost wages, both past and future. However, there are many others depending upon the circumstances of the injured person.

It is perhaps natural when faced with what can be financially crippling injuries to want to hold someone accountable. After all, the medical expenses alone can be overwhelming. These can be enormous and follow an injured person and his or her family for years to come. Other living expenses and obligations continue as well. Life does not stand still when someone is injured.

In those cases where someone else‘s negligence caused the injuries, there may be light at the end of the tunnel. However, it is important to understand that without liability which typically requires negligence, there simply is no possible recovery. This is very hard to accept when faced with serious personal injuries, but it is the reality.

In fact, New Mexico has a jury instruction that is issued in every personal injury case that directly deals with the issue. The jury instruction, 13-1801, states, “You are not to engage in any discussion of damages unless you have first determined that there is liability…”

This rule and jury instruction is to protect against awards based upon emotional reactions to severe injuries, despite the absence of liability. No matter how bad the damages/injuries may be, there must first be liability to obtain an award.

This means that the jury cannot award damages without first finding liability. This means also that insurance companies are unlikely to settle a claim without a showing of liability. It likewise means that insurance companies will often hotly dispute liability.

Liability typically requires some level of negligence. There are a few exceptions including strict liability claims and no-fault medical payment coverage that are beyond the scope of this article. However, in the great majority of cases, there must be negligence.

In addition, there must be fault or what is termed causation. This means that the negligence actually caused the injury. After all, there might be someone behaving negligently, but that negligence had nothing to do with the accident. There may even be negligence and an accident, but no causation for the injuries. This comes up frequently with the pre-existing injuries.

This is a rather simplistic explanation of establishing liability before getting to damages. However, the point is fairly straightforward which is a person cannot be held liable for something that they did not cause or could not prevent.

In sum, the first challenge in any personal injury clam is to establish liability. This can be a rather complex determination requiring the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney.


Related Reading:
Sorting Out Responsibility in a New Mexico Premises Liability Claim
Payment of Medical Expense Is Not an Admission of Liability in New Mexico
Possible Premises Liability Even In Cases of Obvious Hazards

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys

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