Basic Legal Concepts of Liability, Causation, and Damages

Posted on January 12, 2021

When an accident results in injuries, proof of liability, causation, and damages must be established prior to awarding compensation for injuries.

Establishing Basic Legal Concepts After an Accident

Any accident that causes injuries to another person can lead to legal actions. Injury victims who are injured by the fault or negligence of another person can file a lawsuit with an accident lawyer to recover damages. However, the law requires the injury victim (plaintiff) to establish proof for three basic legal concepts: liability for the accident, cause of the accident, and damages for related injuries.

Establishing liability, causation, and damages in an accident is essential for a fair outcome and settlement of legal disputes. Although case factors and definitions may vary between states, basic legal concepts apply to most accident cases.


Establishing liability, or who’s at fault for the accident, is key to the outcome. The legal concept of liability focuses on whether the party that caused the accident owes a responsibility or duty to the injured party. Under U.S. laws, the party that files legal actions (the plaintiff) with an accident lawyer has the burden of proof for liability against the other party (the defendant). In many car accidents, slip and falls, and medical malpractice cases, negligence on the part of the defendant is a key factor in establishing liability.


Establishing the cause of an accident focuses on proving that a defendant’s actions or lack of actions caused harm to the plaintiff. In many states causation falls under tort law, which relies on evidence of factual cause to show the defendant’s actions and proximate cause to show the primary cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Both factual and proximate cause are considered because a defendant can’t be held liable for totally unforeseeable injuries. When establishing causation, accident lawyers often hire experts who analyze and reconstruct accident details.


After liability and causation have been established, damages can be assessed for awarding compensation. In tort law cases, the court awards damages based on proven injury and loss to the plaintiff. In breach of contract disputes, the court awards damages to restore the plaintiff’s position prior to injuries sustained. In cases where a defendant’s actions are particularly malicious or reckless, the court may award punitive damages to punish the defendant for his or her actions. When awarding damages, the court relies on testimony and reports from expert witnesses to determine costs for medical care, rehabilitation, and income loss.