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Is fault the same as negligence in personal injury lawsuits?

If another person’s behavior is believed to be the cause of one's injuries, New Jersey law permits the victim to pursue compensation in a civil lawsuit. Personal injury lawsuits require the plaintiff to establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a much lower standard than in criminal cases. Essentially, the standard could be satisfied if a jury determines that the plaintiff has established the elements of negligence by a probability greater than 50 percent.

Unfortunately, an accident victim may be too consumed by injuries, pain and suffering to consider the legal implications of another’s negligence. Even those that do may not have the fight to fully advocate for their rights. It can be tempting to accept the first settlement proposal offered by the negligent party or the insurance company, for example. 

Yet we would not recommend that approach. Our law office focuses on personal injury lawsuits, and we propose that an injury victim consult with an attorney before talking to insurance companies. This scenario commonly arises in the context of a motor vehicle accident, and insurance investigators might start discussions. However, the truth is that civil liability may potentially attach whenever another person’s negligence has caused injury to another.

An attorney can focus on the strategy of a personal injury lawsuit while a victim recovers from his or her injuries. The inquiry starts with whether a duty of care was owed to the victim. For example, all motorists owe each other the duty of safe driving, which includes adhering to traffic laws and observing road conditions and traffic flow. The next element is causation, which might be established when the victim shows that the breach of the applicable standard of care resulted in his or her injuries. Finally, an accident victim must also show injury or damages. Notably, fault is not a legal element, although it is a conclusion that jurors might reach after examining each of the above elements. 

Source: FindLaw, “Fault and Liability for Motor Vehicle Accidents,” copyright 2015, Thomson Reuters

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