The legal definition of liability is the state of being held responsible for an action, and the results of that action, as dictated by the law. To further understand the liabilities’ legal definition and how it applies in certain circumstances, we’ve provided some guidance below.

Understanding Liabilities in the Legal Context

A civil tort is defined as a wrongful action committed by someone that causes losses for someone else. Some civil torts are crimes, like an intentional violent act that leads to injuries, but not all torts are crimes. Criminal court is interested in seeking justice by penalizing the wrongdoer, but civil court is more interested in seeking financial justice for individuals who wrongfully suffer at the hands of someone else even if that action isn’t against the law.

For instance, a truck driver might get fatigued behind the wheel and cause an accident. While the losses were unintentional, they still happened, and someone has to be held financially and legally responsible for the incident.

That’s where the liability law meaning comes into play — the truck driver (or the company who hired them) might need to pay for the losses sustained by an innocent injured motorist who was impacted by the trucker’s negligence. Under civil laws, a person guilty of committing a civil tort is also responsible for compensating individuals who are impacted by that tort.

Types of Liabilities in Law

So, what is liability in law when it comes to the different types of liabilities an individual or company can have?

Liabilities usually come in the form of economic and non-economic damages that are incurred by the injured party. Economic damages might include financial losses in the form of medical bills, property damage, lost wages, burial costs, funeral expenses, or other costs associated with the fallout of the accident. Non-economic damages are harder to assess but include losses like pain and suffering or emotional distress.

Liability is not limited to short-term losses associated with a civil tort. The responsible party is often held responsible for the long-term impacts of their actions. If a tort leads to permanent injuries, then the liable party could be responsible for the long-term medical care costs and other long-term impacts of the accident.

Legal Liabilities in Different Scenarios

There are many different scenarios where legal liability could arise. In general, liability is assigned to one party under existing laws. For instance, all motorists who get behind the wheel automatically assume a legal duty to provide for the safety and care of everyone else on the road. Liability at law is automatically assigned to every driver, so a driver who fails to uphold that duty would assume responsibility for their actions and the impact of their actions on others.

Other parties also assume a legal duty of care including business owners, property owners who invite guests onto their property, doctors and healthcare providers giving care to their patients, and product manufacturers.

The most common situation where legal liability arises is when one of these parties with a duty of care fails to uphold it. This breach in upholding a duty of care amounts to negligence, which means that the party will assume legal liability and take responsibility for the accident. Here are a few examples of negligence that can lead to legal liability:

  • A motorist fails to give another car the right of way and causes an accident with injuries.
  • A product manufacturer distributes a product that causes injuries to customers.
  • A doctor fails to act with reasonable care and causes an injury to a patient.
  • A business fails to uphold its duty of care and warn customers about an unsafe condition on its property.

Legal liability might also arise when two parties have entered into a contract that transfers legal liability onto one party. Under the contract’s terms, one party could be liable when they fail to uphold their side of the contract’s terms. Employers are also considered legally responsible for their employee’s behavior if the employee is acting under the authority of the employer and is acting within the reasonable scope of their job duties.

How Liabilities Impact Legal Cases

Liabilities are the damages the negligent party will pay to the injured party in a civil claim. These damages are meant to be compensatory, meaning they will fully reimburse the other party for the losses they endure. They are not designed to penalize the responsible party but to ‘right’ the civil ‘wrong’.

Importance of Recognizing Liabilities in Law

It’s important that everyone recognizes their liabilities under the law so that they can make informed decisions on how to handle various circumstances. A failure to recognize legal liability will not result in an absolution of that person’s duty.

Glossary References

Cornell Law School. (2023, June). Liability. Retrieved from Legal Information Institute:

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