Negligence and/or Strict Liability

Accidents happen every day, which may result in mild to severe injuries or even fatalities. If the accident was caused by someone else and resulted in your injury then you may be entitled to compensation. Compensation falls under two legal theories: negligence and/or strict liability. A Newport Beach accident attorney can help you maximize the compensation you deserve.

What Is Negligence?

Negligence is when someone fails to take reasonable care to avoid causing injury or death of another person.  The California Supreme Court in Ladd v. County of San Mateo, 12 Cal.4th 913, 917-18 (1996), expressed that the elements needed to prove negligence is well established:

  • Defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff or to a class of which the plaintiff is a member
  • Defendant breached his or her legal duty of care
  • The breach was the proximate or legal cause of the resulting injury

What If My Negligence Partially Caused the Accident?

Generally, you may still be able to recover even if your conduct partly caused the accident.  California is a pure comparative fault state. Pursuant to Civ. Code §1714(a), you are responsible for your own acts. You are also responsible for someone else’s injuries even if those injuries partially occurred because of his or her own actions.  Thus, even if you were partially at fault for the accident, you may still sue for compensation from the other at-fault parties. However, any damages you are awarded is reduced by the percentage of your fault.  Some exceptions are found in Civ. Code  §§ 3333 – 3343.7

What Types of Accidents Are Caused by Negligence?

Accidents caused by other people’s negligence may include the following:

Professional Negligence / Malpractice

These types of lawsuits allege negligence caused by professionals resulted in injuries to a plaintiff. The most notable kind of professional negligence lawsuit involves medical malpractice. Medical malpractice lawsuits hinge on the question of medical negligence. In other words, did the conduct of a doctor, hospital, or nurse rise to the standard of malpractice? In order to determine this, your attorney will bring in expert witnesses to testify on your behalf. The expert witnesses will argue why the professional’s conduct should leave them liable for damages. Typically, this happens when they fail a basic standard of competence.

While professional negligence lawsuits tend to involve healthcare professionals, they can involve professionals of any variety. For instance, computer security firms can be sued for professional negligence if an easily avoidable mistake results in sensitive data being stolen from their systems. Someone can sue a lawyer for professional negligence or malpractice if they make a mistake that costs their client a winnable lawsuit. Anyone who provides a professional service can be sued for malpractice.

Strict Liability

California is a statutory strict liability state. This means that statute imposes legal responsibility for your injury and damages without consideration of fault.  Thus, you do not have to prove that the other party acted negligently or otherwise.  Rather, you or your Newport Beach accident attorney must only prove that the Southern California accident occurred and proximately caused your injuries.

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In What Types of Accidents Does the Law Impose Strict Liability?

Dog Bite

Pursuant to Civ. Code §3342(a), California holds dog owners responsible for your injuries only when the dog bites you while you are in a public place or lawfully in a private place regardless of the dog’s former viciousness and/or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.  The fact that the dog never bit anyone before and the owner did not know of the dog’s potential violent behavior is not a defense.

Vicarious Liability

California also holds third parties responsible for the conduct, whether negligent or intentional, of another regardless of the third party’s fault.  Examples include the following:

  • Respondeat Superior – the employer is responsible for the conduct of the employee pursuant to Code §2338.
  • Joint and several liability – Code §1431 imposes joint liability upon two or more responsible parties for your economic damages. Thus, each defendant is responsible for the entire economic damages award regardless of each individual’s degree of fault.  However, Civ. Code §1431.2 imposes several liability for non-economic damages.  Each defendant is therefore responsible for only his or her degree of fault.

Product Liability

Product liability lawsuits are predicated on a theory of strict liability. In layman’s terms, if you are using a product in the way in which the manufacturer intended and you sustained injury from the product, you do not have to prove that the company that manufactured the product was negligent. Instead, you will need to prove simply that the product was dangerous or defective and that it caused your injuries.

Generally speaking, there are three types of product liability lawsuits. Those are:

Design Defect Lawsuits

Here, the plaintiff alleges that a defect in the design of a product resulted in their injuries. One high profile example of this type of lawsuit is the Takata Airbag lawsuits. Takata’s airbags would basically explode in the faces of individuals who were driving cars fitted with the airbag under certain environmental conditions. Namely, the airbags would malfunction in hot and humid climates by deploying with too much force. This design defect resulted in the deaths of 22 people and countless serious injuries that left people with permanent impairments. It was also discovered the Takata knew about the design defect and attempted to cover it up instead of issuing a recall that could have saved lives or prevented them from being destroyed.

Manufacturing Defect Lawsuits

These lawsuits allege that, while the design of the product may be safe, something went wrong during the manufacturing process that made it dangerous to those that used it. A high-profile example of this kind of lawsuit are the talcum powder lawsuits targeting mega-corporations like Johnson & Johnson. These lawsuits allege that in the process of refining talcum powder, which is itself safe, tiny particles of asbestos are leaked into the talcum powder that is sold to customers worldwide. The asbestos causes various kinds of cancer including mesothelioma. Here, it is the process of refining and manufacturing that allegedly causes the injuries and deaths and not the product itself.

Failure to Warn Lawsuits

Some products are inherently dangerous or can become dangerous if not used properly. In these cases, manufacturers owe their customers a duty to warn. One high-profile example of this type of lawsuit is being leveled against pharmaceutical companies for the manufacturing of opioid-based prescription pain medications.

These lawsuits allege that not only did the manufacturers of these opioids fail to warn doctors and patients about the habit-forming nature of the medications, but they actually claimed that these medications were less addictive than their predecessors. In other words, drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin, which are routinely sold on the street to recreational drug abusers, were advertised as being a less addictive alternative to older opioids like morphine. In this case, because the drug companies failed to warn doctors and patients about the risks of the medication, they are allegedly responsible for lives taken and destroyed by their product.

While a plaintiff does not need to prove negligence in a product liability lawsuit, their attorneys sometimes will opt to do so. In cases where punitive damages are in play, as they were in the Takata airbag lawsuits, the plaintiff’s attorney must prove gross or criminal negligence and callous disregard for the rights and safety of others.

Legal Representation Starts Here

The first step to any case is to know your legal cause of action when asserting your claim for compensation.  Understanding your case is key since one accident could have multiple claims and defendants.  For example, in a car accident case, you may have a negligence claim against the driver as well as a strict product liability claim against the manufacturer of your vehicle for defective air bags.  A knowledgeable Newport Beach accident attorney will analyze your case to determine what claims you have.

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