As part of a routine accident investigation, a personal injury lawyer will want to investigate whether there have been prior similar incidents resulting in personal injury or wrongful death. “Prior similar incidents” refers to negligent acts by the same company or individual that caused injury to another person under the same or similar circumstances as your case. In some instances, prior similar incidents are admissible. In others, they are not.
Premises Liability Lawsuits
In premises liability lawsuits, prior similar incidents can be used to establish constructive notice. Premises liability cases include slip and fall, trip and fall, workplace falls through an unguarded floor opening, or a fall from any other dangerous height lacking a barricade or handrail. They also include drowning, explosions, electrocution, and any other hazard, danger, or risk occurring on a property that causes an injury to someone who has a right to be on that property.
To prove negligence in a premises liability case, the injured party has to prove that the property owner knew or should have known about a hazard or danger existing on the premises. This is known as “notice.” The existence of prior similar incidents can be used to establish notice. Once a property owner or lessee is aware of a dangerous condition on the property, they have a duty to repair, warn, or safeguard against future personal injuries or fatalities. A skilled personal injury lawyer will conduct discovery to learn whether a property owner knew or should have known about defects on the property.
Medical Negligence Lawsuits
In the context of medical negligence lawsuits, prior similar incidents can be relevant to proving that a particular doctor or nurse was incompetent, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, untrained, or otherwise unfit to do their job. Typically, prior acts of medical negligence by a healthcare worker are not admissible due to the fact that patterns in every case are entirely different. For example, each patient has a unique past medical history and set of risk factors. Likewise, each clinical scenario involves different raw data, including vital signs and results of clinical assessments. However, in cases involving negligent retention or credentialing, prior similar incidents can be admissible. When a hospital grants staff privileges to a doctor or hires a nurse, they must follow applicable standards of care for hiring and retaining the doctor or nurse, including a review of prior medical negligence or nursing negligence, and any history of disciplinary actions. If the hospital was negligent in granting staff privileges to an unqualified doctor or in hiring a negligent nurse, the hospital can be held directly liable for negligent credentialing, hiring, or retention.
Trucking Accident Lawsuits
Likewise, prior similar incidents can be used to hold a trucking company liable for the negligence of its employee. A truck driver with a past record of alcohol or drug abuse, traffic violations, a suspended license, or termination by past employers for disciplinary infractions, is far more likely to cause future trucking accidents. The trucking company can be held liable under principles of vicarious liability for the acts of its employee who causes a fatal truck crash or serious personal injuries to other motorists as a result of a motor vehicle collision. However, if the employee has a track record of prior bad acts, the trucking company may also be held liable for punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. A truck accident lawyer, like a truck accident lawyer in Cleveland, OH, would be helpful in creating a case.
Product Liability Lawsuits
Finally, prior similar incidents are useful in product liability cases to establish that a particular product is defective. A product is deemed “defective” if it poses dangers that could not be anticipated by a reasonably careful user of the product. In those cases, the manufacturer has a duty to guard against injury or warn users about hidden dangers associated with using the product. In this setting, it can be important to show that the product has caused other personal injuries through evidence of prior similar incidents.
Contact an Attorney
A skilled personal injury lawyer will typically investigate whether there are prior similar incidents leading to serious personal injuries or wrongful death whether the case involves general negligence, premises liability, a trucking accident, medical malpractice or product liability. Whether such evidence is admissible depends upon the circumstances of each case.
Thanks to Mishkind Kulwicki Law for their insight into prior incidents as evidence in a lawsuit.