Ask a Lawyer… I Accidentally Spilled Coffee on a Laptop. Am I Liable?

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Question: If you spill coffee (by accident) on a college classmate`s computer and it is wrecked, who is responsible? Who has to pay for repairs or a new computer? My sister says that I do not have to pay. My father says that I destroyed someone`s property and have to pay. The girl’s family is threatening me with a lawsuit. It happened in a coffee shop when I stumbled and spilt the coffee on her computer. -Concerned at College

Lawyer: Whether accidentally or not, you destroyed the property of another. The fact that you certainly did not intend to do it does not make you any less liable for the breaking of the laptop. If you do not pay, I would imagine that the family of the other student will take you to small claims and sue for the value of the computer.

Accidents Can Still Be Negligence

It is simple negligence. You have a duty and responsibility to be careful when carrying the coffee, which you breached by tripping/slipping, resulting in spilling coffee all over the laptop, and the destruction of the laptop which would not have happened had you not tripped.

Question: I am 18 (uninsured) and borrowed my friend’s uninsured car. The car skidded on ice, hit a telephone pole and wrecked. No tickets were issued. My friend wants full price for the used car ($1300 plus tires $400 and $100 tow bill). My parents say responsibility is on the owner because of lack of insurance. Who is liable? I want to do the right thing but feel I am only partly responsible. -No Holiday on Ice

Lawyer: The law provides that a person is liable for the damage to another’s property if that damage was caused by negligence. Here, the owner of the vehicle will have to prove that the girl driving vehicle acted in a negligent way that caused the wreck for the girl to be liable for the damages to the vehicle. The girl will not be liable if the damages to the vehicle were caused by an “act of god”. Arguably, the ice which caused the vehicle to wreck is an “act of god”. Thus, the girl has a viable defense to the claim by the owner of the vehicle.

Further, even if there is liability, it is only for the reasonable costs of repair of the vehicle or the value of the vehicle, whichever is less. Since the vehicle only cost $1,300, then the repair costs might exceed the total value of the vehicle here.

Car Owner Had No Insurance

If the vehicle owner brings the case in small claims, the girl will be able to tell the judge that the owner did not have any insurance and the owner will be able to tell the judge that the girl did not have any insurance. The judge’s reaction will likely be that insurance is not the issue in the case. The issue is whether the girl was negligent.

Legally, under the Rules of Evidence information about insurance is not to be considered in a case regarding negligent property damage. If the case is brought in a court higher than a small claims court using lawyers, where the Rules of Evidence apply, the insurance issue will not be heard by the court at all because of this Rule of Evidence.

This content is provided by an independent source for informational purposes only and does not contain legal advice. Consult an attorney or financial advisor when making decisions. This information is provided by legal writers and does not reflect the views or opinions of The Daily Sundial editorial staff.