7 Facts of Civil Lawsuits

What Are Defenses to Civil Liability?

There are several defenses an individual or organization can raise if a civil liability lawsuit is brought against him. The following defenses are absolute negative defenses; they defeat the claim by undermining and denying an important part of the case.  Some common negative defenses include:

1. Contributory Negligence – This is when the defendant will claim that the injured party contributed to his own harm, and thus the defendant should not be held liable. If the injured party was contributorily negligent then he will not be able to recover.

2. Comparative Negligence – if a court determines that more than one party is liable for the harm caused, it may split the liability among the various liable parties. So one party may be responsible for 60% of the damages while another party will be liable for the remaining 40%. An example of comparative negligence is a car accident where one driver is driving too fast, and another is driving without headlights. 

3. Assumption of Risk – if a court determines that the injured party engaged in a dangerous activity, the court may find that he or she assumed the risks associated with the dangerous activity and is responsible for their injury. This defense is used infrequently now because of the development of the comparative negligence doctrine.

4. Limitation on Liability Clauses - many contracts between parties contain limitation on liability clauses which protect one of the parties from liability in the event of injury or harm to the other party.

5. Act of God – defendants cannot be responsible for events outside human control, such as natural disasters. This was used in certain cases in Louisiana and other southern states after Hurricane Katrina caused massive economic damage.

6. Superseding Cause – defendant is not responsible because defendant did not cause the injury; someone or something else did.

7. Other defenses are affirmative defenses; it is admitted that events are true, but there is an alternative explanation as to what happened such that the defendant is not responsible.