Understanding The Personal Injury Process

How Foreseeability Factors Into Injury Cases

When a client discusses a case with a personal injury lawyer, one of the first issues they usually cover is foreseeability. This is the doctrine in most types of negligence cases that a responsible party must have been able to foresee the consequences of their negligence to be liable. This article examines what it means in injury law for events to be foreseeable.

Does Foreseeability Apply to Your Case?

First, it's worth considering whether your claim might be in the smaller class of cases where this isn't an issue. Largely, these cases involve what the law calls strict liability. Someone is strictly liable if they engage in activities that society presumes are dangerous.

If your neighbor owns a leopard and the big cat attack you, for example, there's no need to discuss foreseeability. The law assumes it is dangerous for someone to own an exotic animal. Consequently, such attacks lead to automatic liability under nearly all circumstances.

When Foreseeability Applies

Almost all forms of general negligence and most forms of gross negligence require some degree of foreseeability. The simple version of this is a slip-and-fall accident at a convenience store due to a spill. If someone dropped a soda in the aisle and the bottle exploded, it wouldn't be foreseeable for the store staff to prevent a slip-and-fall incident in the seconds after. However, if the store's staff let the spill go after a customer told them about it, then it is foreseeable because they had the opportunity to prevent it.

Force Majeure

One common defense regarding foreseeability is force majeure. This is the legal doctrine that people can't be held liable for anything caused by a greater power. Extreme and sudden weather shifts, for example, would usually fall in this category. However, an event organizer who had a day's warning that a hurricane was approaching probably couldn't make this claim because that hazard is foreseeable.


By this point, you've probably noticed that there are some gray areas. The law, however, doesn't see these as coin flips or judgment calls. Instead, the law emphasizes the idea of reasonableness. This standard holds that a reasonable person can deduce whether certain scenarios are foreseeable. Presuming a negligence case went to trial, 12 reasonable people would be asked to determine the foreseeability of an injurious event.

Notably, this is the main motivation for a defendant or an insurance company to settle. If it is evident that a jury would find a defendant liable based on foreseeability, settling would likely save a lot of trouble. Reach out to a personal injury lawyer to learn more.