Liability is a fundamental concept in both civil and criminal law that determines whether someone is legally responsible for something. Learn more about the importance of liability in the law and the different types of liability. Icon

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What Is Liability?

Liability refers to one party’s legal responsibility for their actions or omissions, which have harmed or damaged another party. This responsibility is assessed based on the breach of a legal duty of care owed by the liable party to the injured party.

“A party can be held liable based on their own actions, their own inactions, or the actions of people/animals for which they are legally responsible.”
– Cornell Law School

Legal liability can stem from intentional acts, unintentional acts, and contracts. In most cases, a party that’s found liable will be required to pay the injured party or perform some other type of action.

Types of Liability

In the eyes of the law, liability plays an important role in holding individuals accountable for their actions. It also serves to prevent negligent behavior and allows those who suffer harm or losses to pursue justice.

Types of liability include:

  • Employer liability: Most employers are required to have workers’ compensation insurance to provide lost wages and other benefits to those who suffer a workplace injury or illness.
  • Joint and several liability: This refers to responsibility shared by two or more defendants in a lawsuit. The principle allows each party to be held individually responsible for the full extent of the harm they’ve caused.
  • Premises liability: Property owners and occupiers may be responsible for injuries that occur on their property. Dog bites, swimming pool accidents, and slip and fall accidents often fall under this category.
  • Product liability: Companies that make, sell, and distribute dangerous or defective products can be held accountable for the harm that they cause.
  • Strict liability: A party is held responsible for their actions regardless of their intent or mental state. This often comes into play in product liability cases.
  • Vicarious liability: One party is held accountable for the actions of another.

Companies can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees, emphasizing the need for compliance programs and ethical standards within organizations to lessen risks and ensure accountability.

Personal vs Professional Liability

Liability can also be categorized into two main types: personal and professional.

Personal liability refers to an individual’s legal responsibility for actions or omissions that cause harm or damage, like auto accidents or slip and fall incidents.

On the other hand, professional liability is a risk faced by professionals in various fields, like doctors, lawyers, and accountants, when they fail to meet the standard of care expected within their respective industries.

Doctors and other professionals often rely on malpractice insurance to reduce their risk of potential liability.

Liability FAQs

What is liability?

Liability is a legal concept in which one party is held responsible for their actions or inactions after some type of harm has occurred.

What is an example of liability?

An example of liability is a doctor being held responsible for committing medical malpractice and causing injury to a patient. In this case, the doctor who has been found liable would most likely be required to pay monetary damages to the person they harmed.

What is the literal meaning of liability?

The literal meaning of liability is being legally obligated to pay another party a sum of money or otherwise fulfill an obligation. Icon

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  1. Cornell Law School. (2022, July). “liability.” Retrieved April 29, 2024, from
  2. Investopedia. (2021, October 5). “Joint and Several Liability: Definition, Example, State Limits.” Retrieved April 29, 2024, from
  3. The Law Dictionary. “LIABILITY Definition & Legal Meaning.” Retrieved April 29, 2024, from
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