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Disability and Personal Injury Liability

WheelchairDisabilities, whether mental or physical, often make it more difficult for people to control their actions. Sometimes, this can result in a disabled person unintentionally injuring another. Generally, people must exercise reasonable care to avoid injuring others, or they can be held liable for those injuries in lawsuits based on negligence. But disabled people may not be as capable of understanding or controlling their actions, and so may commit acts which, in other circumstances, would constitute negligence. In California, a disabled person is legally responsible for his or her actions to the extent that a reasonable person with the same disability would be.

Reasonable Person Standard

In California, to avoid liability for negligence, a person is required to act as a reasonable person would under the same circumstances. If a person does not adhere to this standard of care, and if this results in injury to another, the person may be liable in a personal injury action for negligence and may be required to pay damages to the victim of the accident.

A physically or mentally disabled person must adhere to the same reasonable person standard, while taking into to account the disability. In order to avoid liability for negligence, a disabled person must act as a reasonable person with the same disability would act under the circumstances. The standard is similar to how minors are treated under California law.

Punitive Damages

A disabled person will not be liable for punitive damages unless the person was capable of understanding that his or her actions or inactions were wrong. Punitive, or exemplary, damages are designed to punish and to serve as a deterrent, and are only awarded in cases of egregious misbehavior. California law does not look to punish a person who is not morally culpable, and punitive damages will likely serve little deterrent purpose to others with similar handicaps because they have a similar lack of understanding.

Compensatory damages, however, may be assessed against a disabled person. This is because the purpose of compensatory damages, which may include compensation for medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering, is to make the injured person whole again, rather than to punish the negligent party.

Contributory Negligence

When an accident victim contributes in some way to his or her own harm, this constitutes contributory negligence, and the victim’s recovery will be diminished in proportion to his or her culpability. The mentally and physically handicapped are generally liable for contributory negligence, but if a mentally disabled person is completely insane, then there may be no contributory negligence liability.

If you have been injured by a person with a physical or mental disability, this can introduce complex issues of liability into your case. Please contact the skilled San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. at (408) 289-1417 to schedule an initial consultation.

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I suffered a severe spinal injury while working as a farm mechanic in the Salinas Valley. The attorneys -Tim McMahon and Mark Sigala were fantastic from the beginning. They fought for me over 3 long years and in the end, we won a difficult liability case against the farm company who was using dangerous equipment. The defendants in the case tried everything to put the blame on me and even claimed I was their employee in order to avoid civil responsibility. Tim and Mark never gave up on me and my case. I cannot recommend them highly enough. They are fighters. Adrian A.
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