What is a Direct Liability?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Direct liability is a legal obligation which results from someone's personal actions. In an example, someone who breaks a window is directly liable for the breakage of the window and can be obliged to pay for a replacement. This is in contrast with indirect liability, in which someone is liable for damages incurred by the behavior of someone else, as when a hospital agrees to pay damages to a patient injured by a doctor. Determining what form liability takes can be an important aspect of legal cases involving liability.

Direct liability is often considered in medical malpractice cases.
Direct liability is often considered in medical malpractice cases.

Activities which can lead to direct liability include acts of negligence as well as omission, ranging from failing to maintain safety equipment appropriately to neglecting to provide people with information they would need to avoid injury. People can be held liable for bodily injury, in which someone is physically harmed, as well as financial damages, psychological damages, and damages to property. In all cases, direct liability implies that the person potentially obligated to pay damages is directly responsible for the injury.

Disputes about liability may arise in medical malpractice cases.
Disputes about liability may arise in medical malpractice cases.

When someone is directly responsible for damages, he or she can be taken to court by the person who sustained the injury. The court may confirm the direct liability and award damages which must be paid to the person who was injured as compensation. This can include damages to pay for expenses incurred as a result of the injury as well as compensatory damages, as when a company is ordered to pay because someone experience humiliation as a result of its actions.

There may be cases in which people are asked to sign paperwork which waives liability, usually in situations where people are engaging in dangerous activities with full knowledge that the activity is dangerous. However, direct liability can still arise in such situations. For example, if safety equipment is not maintained properly and someone is injured, this goes beyond the reasonable risks people were made aware of on a waiver. Likewise, if someone fails to disclose the risks associated with an activity and someone experiences an injury, the liability waiver may be overridden in court.

Issues of liability can become quite complicated. Employers in particular are often concerned with liability, because the law may hold employers responsible for the actions of their employees. Medical malpractice is an area in which disputes about liability may arise, as hospitals want to avoid making payouts on behalf of negligent employees. Liability can also come into dispute in other business settings.

A surgeon who botches an operation is directly liable for damages.
A surgeon who botches an operation is directly liable for damages.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@SauteePan - I heard about those cases. It is terrible because you move into a new home and you are all excited that the last thing you want to do is have to move out because of faulty construction.

I know that product liability cases like those with Toyota really gave the company a lot of negative press. The cases of many families dying as a result of accidents because of sudden acceleration and faulty brakes really made many people stay away from these cars.

Even with all of the millions of cars that the company recalled and the money paid out in direct liability cases many people are still uncomfortable driving these cars. Some people even felt that the company knew about these engineering problems but chose to look the other way.


I know what you mean. I also wanted to add that there have also been direct liability suits with builders across the country. I know that a lot of builders wanted to increase profits and sometimes that resulted in faulty construction.

There were many lawsuits regarding homes that were built with Chinese drywall. This drywall causes a strong odor and makes people sick. Homes that have this type of drywall are uninhabitable until the drywall is removed.

There were even a few communities in my town that had homes built with thing material and now the homeowners have sued the builder and have had to move to another home until the repairs are done.


@Bhutan - I agree that is terrible. I wanted to add that sometimes the problems involve physicians that give verbal orders to a nurse at a hospital. There was a case in Colorado in which a pregnant woman died because she was given high dosages of magnesium sulfate.

The same thing happened at a Tampa hospital because the nurse gave the wrong dosage. This is a really dangerous drug that is used to slow contractions. I think that sometimes doctors and nurses are in a hurry and misunderstand each other and people get hurt or killed that way. It is really sad.

I think that these cases of daycares leaving children in a car and later having them die is another situation in which people are rushed and not taking the care that they need to do their job properly. I think that when you have someone's life at stake you really need to be very careful and have a system in place of checks and balances.


I know that there have been many cases of direct liability regarding pharmacists making mistakes on customer's prescriptions. This can be really devastating because giving the wrong dosage or prescribing the wrong medication can lead to the patient’s death.

There was a case in Denver in which a woman that was six weeks pregnant was given an abortion drug that is also used to fight cancer. Doctors believe that as a result she will likely miscarry or if the baby survives will have significant birth defects.

The supermarket where the woman got her prescription said that they will pay for her medical expenses. I should hope so. I think that these people should be sued because they caused irreparable damage to this woman and her unborn baby.

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