In the state of California, liability refers to the legal responsibility for an act or omission. In a lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant had legal liability to perform some action or, in other instances, that the defendant has legal liability because their actions caused some type of damage or injury.

Liability may also apply to a criminal act. For example, John Doe drives his car through an intersection, striking Jane Doe’s car broadside. Jane Doe’s car is damaged beyond repair. Because John Doe is found to be at fault due to running a red light, he is legally liable for the accident and will owe Jane for the damage.

Using the same example, Jane Doe is killed in the accident. John Doe may be held legally liable for her death. His actions, or failure to perform reasonably and safely, have opened him to criminal liability. If John Doe did not have a driver’s license and borrowed his sister’s car, his sister may have statutory liability in the accident. Had she not let John borrow her car despite him not being a licensed driver, the accident would not have occurred.

People can be held legally liable in a variety of ways. Once a person is found to have been liable for some instance, they may be held responsible monetarily or criminally. In a personal injury case, the person will be held responsible for compensating the victim. In a criminal case, the person responsible will be punished with jail, fines, or both.