At-Fault vs. Negligent:  What Is The Difference?

Many people are confused by some of the legal terms used when discussing personal injury accidents.  What does it mean to be “at fault” for an accident?  Can that only happen if someone is negligent?  What is the standard behavior that must meet before the person is responsible for damages?  These types of questions are not always easy to answer, and the answers can affect whether you recover compensation for your injury case.  Therefore, it is very important to have an attorney who has experience dealing with cases involving personal injury, particularly in how to evaluate the worth of those cases. 

How To Define Fault Under Alaska Law

Many people confuse the legal definition of fault for an accident with the common definition of intent to cause an accident.  While the intent is important, it is not necessary to show that a person meant to hurt someone else in order to apply fault in a personal injury case.  Instead, what matters is whether the conduct of the person or entity is intentionally negligent. 

What this means is that the conduct of the person rises to a level that a reasonable person would deem careless.  Here are a few examples of how someone could have no intention of harming someone but could still display negligent conduct:  

  • Failure to maintain.   If you own property, whether it is a home, car, or anything else, you are required to maintain that property to protect the safety of others.  If a person allows their car’s maintenance to lapse, then has a mechanical failure that causes an accident, it is possible that the individual might be negligent under the law.  Likewise, if a homeowner left a broken walkway unrepaired and someone tripped and fell as a result, the homeowner might be considered liable for the injury. 
  • Failure to use due caution.  Speeding is another good example of how a person without intent to harm someone could, in fact, be negligent.  Reasonable people understand that speeding is dangerous, and cannot make the excuse that they did not know they could harm someone by doing so.  In many car accident cases, speeding is cited as one way to show the at-fault party was negligent. 
  • Failure to warn.  In some cases, one person has a duty to warn others about possible dangerous situations, such as hazardous work areas.  If the person fails to do so, this may constitute negligence. 

These are all examples of passive negligence, in which a person becomes negligent by failing to act.  However, there are also cases in which a person becomes negligent because of his or her actions, such as: 

  • Drunk driving.  Most drunk drivers do not have active intent to harm someone, but the act of driving drunk in itself is a negligent act.  Most people know that drunk driving is very dangerous and could easily harm another person. 
  • Concealing dangerous conditions.  Some property owners ignore hazards; others take steps to hide them.  If this is the case, there is often a strong argument for negligence, since the property owner obviously knew of the hazard and tried to conceal it. 
  • Offering defective products.  A restaurant owner who does not take proper precautions to keep food safe, or a manufacturer who knowingly puts out a defective product, may be found negligent due to their failure to protect the public. 

When someone knowingly puts others in danger, additional damages may be available in the form of punitive damages.  Punitive damages are usually assigned when it is clear that the defendant in a case knew of the danger but actively avoided disclosing it, took steps that show intent to harm someone else, or willingly ignored the implications of a dangerous situation.  

If you have questions about your personal injury case, the attorneys at Barber & Associates are here to help.  We can give you advice on how to pursue your case for the maximum amount of compensation possible and will work with you each step of the way to ensure your rights are protected.  Give us a call today to learn more. 

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