Things Most People Don’t Know About Liability (That You Should)
To be liable for something from a legal viewpoint means that you bear a responsibility for something under the law. To be more precise, you share in a liability that may translate into ramifications against your possessions or person. While everyone may or may not have a general idea of what this means, very few have a keen understanding of how much liability they personally have in a given situation.
Some types of risk are easy to understand. Most people know that if they back out of their parking space into another parked car that they will be at fault. If you back out of your space and another car was speeding through the parking lot, it can be shown that the responsibility shifts and the liability is not as significant to you. A judge would have to make a determination based on the available evidence in this scenario. There are direct accountability scenarios that may not be so readily apparent.
If you have a gravel driveway that leads to the main road, there may be potential hazards in play. When it rains on a pavement that is littered with loose gravel, the asphalt can become slippery to oncoming traffic. As a homeowner, you have an obligation to maintain your driveway and keep it from encroaching on the main road. If you fail to keep your area clear of gravel debris on the road and it can be proven, you may be sued if there is an accident resulting from your driveway's misplaced rock.
If you own a garage and one of your employees fails to properly tighten the lug nuts on a car, you can be held responsible for the damages. Depending on how you set up your company, you could be on the hook for its assets as well as your own. This is one of the main reasons small companies incorporate. Sole proprietors can stand to lose everything they own in an instant.
In a sense, you could say there is no such thing as indirect liability. Either you are liable or you are not. In practice, you can be held accountable for any precipitous action you take whose end result is a lawsuit. Take something as simple as a promise. If you tell your child that you will pay for their college so long as they make good grades and go to the school you choose, you can be forced to pay their tuition in a court of law. The idea is that you have formed a verbal contract. The word "consideration" is a legal term that does not mean what most people think it does when applied to contracts. Consideration is a thing of value given to secure the terms of a contract. If the child gave up their choice on a school and went to the one of your choosing, that could be viewed as consideration.
Liability does not have to lead to monetary damages. If you bought a piece of property from an individual and there was a build restriction given to that individual in the form of a restriction, you will also be under that restriction if you do not do anything to have it lifted. For example, if the restriction was such that no subsequent owners can have a mobile or manufactured home, you would not be able to do so. The liability can translate into an order of the court for you to remove the mobile home at your expense. You are liable for the type of ownership of your property that you have.
Liability in Light of Negligence
Negligence is a dirty word to anyone but an attorney representing a client in a high dollar case. Negligence is one of the hardest legal culpabilities to avoid. One of the biggest problems is in how the term is applied. It is normally couched in the framework of “what would a normal person have done?” Well, what exactly is a normal person to you? If you are a doctor at a scene of an accident in your plain clothes trying to save someone’s life and you make a mistake, you can be held to the standard of other doctors in your field who would have found themselves in the same situation. The problem here is that there are so many doctors out there it is easy for the prosecution to find a doctor to say something different that they would have done compared to your actions. The question can be extremely subjective and have catastrophic results.
Negligence has many forms and many applications. If you were supposed to have your vehicle inspected for warranty purposes at 50,000 miles, could you be negligently liable for an accident due to brake failure at 60,000 miles if you missed the service check? There is a difference in criminal negligence and the interpretation of negligence in a civil court. Losing in either court is still a nightmare. With millions of laws on the books, it is impossible to know them all and at the same time live by them.
The best that you can do to protect yourself is to think through anything you are going to do and seek council if you are entering an area that needs technical advice. Everyone has heard that ignorance is no excuse under the law. Arm yourself with caution and knowledge and always look to do well by others. What more can you do? If you're ever unsure about a given situation, you can enlist the services of an attorney like David R. Heil and receive a free consultation. Many attorneys are even willing to offer their services on contingency -- meaning that you will not pay for those services unless you receive an award from the court.