We all make mistakes. Liability is legal responsibility for the outcomes of certain mistakes.
When a mistake is made by someone acting unreasonably or not as responsible as a reasonable person should act, the person making the mistake is usually considered to be legally “negligent.” If I am negligent and cause an accident that damages another person or that person’s property, I may have at least some liability for the damages that result from that accident.
Limiting or eliminating liability are the goals of many legal structures and lots of types of insurance, including car insurance, renter or homeowner insurance and other property insurance.
The issue of one person causing damage to another is usually pretty straightforward. The person who caused the damage is likely the person with liability or responsibility to compensate the damaged person.
However, the facts become more complex when the damaged person did one or more things that helped to increase either the possibility of the damage or the magnitude of the damage. For example, if one person runs a stop sign and hits another person’s car, the other person may have been driving faster than the posted speed limit. Damages to the speeding person may be partially the fault of that person, because (among other considerations) the speed increased the rate of impact between the vehicles and therefore caused more severe damage to the speeding person’s car.
Before 1980, Ohio law provided that a person in this instance (of speeding who was hit by someone who failed to yield at a stop sign) could arguably not recover any money whatsoever for any physical damage to himself or herself, because that person was even 1 percent negligent himself or herself. This liability standard and structure was called contributory negligence.
As a practical matter, no one is faultless and perfect in any situation. Therefore, contributory negligence resulted in some pretty unfair legal results.
As a result, by the 1970s, most states began to change their liability laws. Beginning in 1980, Ohio adopted a standard called comparative negligence.
Comparative negligence requires that the fault for an accident be allocated proportionally. Ultimately, juries are charged with the responsibility to determine the percentage of responsibility for an accident among those involved.
For instance, let’s say that an accident between two people caused $100,000 damage to one person. If a jury decides that the damaged person was 40 percent responsible for the accident, the damaged person could recover $60,000 from the other person who was involved in the accident.
Of course, the facts become more complex if both parties have damages and in situations where there are more than two participants in an accident.
Obviously, the best way to avoid liability is to be safe and responsible, avoiding negligent behavior. And, even though we dislike paying insurance premiums if we never have a claim, everyone needs liability insurance. Finally, when operating a business of any type or size, it is advisable to consider establishing one or more entities to limit the scope of the business owner’s liability.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.