What Does it Mean to “Admit Liability” in a Personal Injury Case?

In a personal injury case, the defendant and their insurance company will often state that they are “admitting liability.” Lawyers also call this admitting responsibility or accepting fault.

In this post, we will try to explain what it means when the defendant admits liability and how it will potentially impact the outcome of your claim. Admitting liability can happen in any type of tort case, but it is most common in auto accident cases so this post will focus solely on liability admission in auto tort claims.

Liability vs. Damages

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To get compensation for personal injuries in an auto accident case you need to establish 2 elements: (1) liability, and (2) damages. Liability is established by proving that the defendant was “at fault” for the accident because they violated an applicable traffic law such as failing to yield, running a stop sign, etc. To prove fault in an accident you can present witness testimony, police accident reports, pictures, and other types of factual evidence.

Once you prove that the other driver was at fault for the accident, you will still need to establish your damages. This requires you to prove that your injuries are valid and that they were a direct result of the auto accident as opposed to a pre-existing injury.

To get compensation for your medical bills and expenses you will also need to show that your medical treatment was reasonable and necessary. To prove your damages in an auto case you may need to present testimony from an expert medical witness who can confirm that your injuries were caused by the accident.

Defendant Admits Liability and Contests Damages

In auto tort cases it is often clear and obvious who was at fault for the accident. For example, in rear-end collision accidents the driver who hits another car from behind is almost always at-fault. Similarly, if a driver runs a stop sign or a red light there will obviously be at fault. In these situations, there is really no point in arguing that the defendant is not at fault and making the plaintiff prove liability.

When the defendant’s fault for the accident is either obvious or not worth contesting, their insurance company will typically make the decision to admit liability. This does not necessarily mean that you have a great case and you are going to get a big settlement. Admitting liability is often done for strategic purposes so that the insurance carrier can focus all their resources on contesting the damages claimed in your case.

Example of Insurance Company Admitting Liability and Disputing Damages

Here is a very common example of an insurance company admitting liability and contesting damages. You are stopped at a red light when Joe Smith suddenly slams into you from behind. You feel okay immediately after the accident and decline an ambulance, but the next day you wake up with severe pain in your back and legs.

You go to the doctor and learn that the impact has re-aggravated a back issue you had 2 years ago. After months of physical therapy and steroid injections fail to eliminate the pain you opt to undergo spinal fusion surgery. You have to take almost a month off from work and you have thousands in medical bills so you hire an auto accident lawyer to pursue a claim against Joe Smith for negligently rear-ending you.

Joe Smith is insured by State Farm. The claims adjuster for State Farm says that they are admitting liability based on the police accident report and a statement from their insured. You assume that this means they are going to pay for your surgery and treatments. Your lawyer submits your medical bills and a demand letter seeking to settle the case for $75,000.

Two months later the State Farm adjuster responds with a shockingly low offer of $12,000. Your lawyer explains that although State Farm admitted liability, they are claiming that your back injury was pre-existing and was not actually caused by the accident. Your lawyer says the next step is to file a lawsuit against Joe Smith and see if they change their position.

  • You see a lot of denials of responsibility in red-light, green-light lawsuits.  This is how to win red light liability dispute cases.

Admitting Liability Only After Lawsuit Is Filed

In some cases, the insurance company will initially deny liability and claim that their insured was not at fault for the accident. This is often a tactical threat that the adjuster will use in an effort to get you to accept a lowball settlement offer. The threat is usually very hollow, however, and the adjuster will often back off and immediately admit liability as soon as you file a lawsuit against their insured driver. We see this sort of posturing all the time from certain insurance companies and their adjusters.

After you file a lawsuit against the insured driver and the adjuster is faced with the reality of having to present actual proof regarding liability, they will almost immediately switch gears and start focusing on causation and damages instead of liability.

Contact Miller & Zois About Your Accident Case

If you want compensation for injuries sustained in an auto accident, contact the lawyers at Miller & Zois for a free case evaluation.