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A “tort” is what it’s called when someone commits a wrongful act for which they can be held responsible. California tort law dictates that a person may be held liable under one or more of the following theories.
The negligence standard is the most widely known form of tort liability, and the most commonly used in truck accident cases or car accident cases. The fact finder must determine the following in order to find a party negligent:
When a person is found to be negligent, they are legally responsible for the damages incurred by the victim. In a car accident case, every driver has a legal duty to exercise caution and obey the laws when driving. If the driver makes dangerous choices, like texting while driving, they are breaching that duty.
Less straightforward is the strict liability standard. If a person is held to be strictly liable, this means that a finding of intent or negligence is not required. This area is primarily confined to ultra-hazardous activities and product liability cases, but can also apply to employment cases as well.
An activity is ultra-hazardous if it is so inherently dangerous that even the highest degree of care will not eliminate the risk of harm.
If someone is injured because of such activity, the defendant is liable regardless of the level of care he or she exercised. Some examples of ultra-hazardous activities include:
A familiar example of the latter was the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. In the wake of that tragedy, strict liability provisions of the Refuse Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act meant that oil carriers would be liable for any violation, regardless of whether it occurred accidentally or as a result of intentional misconduct. Both scenarios are handled the same when viewed through the lens of strict liability. The Restatement of Torts Section 520 states that in determining whether an activity is, in fact, “abnormally dangerous”, a court will consider the following:
Vicarious liability makes one person responsible for a wrongful act committed by another person. There are a number of contexts in which this situation arises.
Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is liable for an employee’s harmful actions if the employee was acting within the scope of employment. How do we determine “scope”?
Example: An employee is driving a car during standard business hours, delivering supplies from one office to another. During that time, he strikes and injures a pedestrian. Was this work in the scope of employment?
Someone who engages an independent contractor is not liable to others for the acts or omissions of the independent contractor. An independent contractor is a person who performs services for another person under agreement and who maintains control over the way he performs the work.
If two or more people are found liable for an injury, they will be held jointly and severally liable. This means that each person is liable for the entire award regardless of the individual degree of fault. Because a so-called “deep pocket” defendant may be held liable for an entire damage award even if he is only partly responsible, California has modified the doctrine of joint and several liability for personal injury cases. To apportion financial liability closer to the degree of fault, California does not apply several liability for non-economic damages.