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One of the most common types of personal injury lawsuits involves a claim of negligence. Negligence describes a situation in which a person acts in a careless or negligent manner. This results in someone else getting hurt or property being damaged.

Negligence can often be a difficult area of law to define. It involves a legal analysis of the elements of negligence as they relate to the facts of a particular case. FindLaw's Negligence section provides information on negligence in personal injury cases. In this section, you can also find helpful summaries of state laws on negligence.

The Standard of Care

The law of negligence requires individuals to conduct themselves in a way that conforms to certain standards of conduct. If a person doesn't conform to that standard, the person can be held liable for the harm they cause to another person or property.

Sometimes the standard of conduct requires a person to act. It's possible for the omission of an act to give rise to a negligence claim.

To prove negligence in a car accident case, the injured party must show that the at-fault driver failed to meet the reasonable person standard of care. This breach could be as simple as running a red light. It could also be as complex as a truck accident caused by failure to follow federal safety regulations.

Proving a Negligence Case

To prove that a defendant was negligent, a plaintiff must show the elements of negligence. The elements of negligence are:

  • Duty of Care
  • Breach
  • Causation
  • Damages

Proving these elements involves legal knowledge and analysis.

The Legal Duty of Care

The first step of proving a negligence case is determining whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. Generally, determining if the defendant owed a duty will depend on the circumstances.

For example, a driver owes a duty to other drivers on the road. Basically, that driver has a duty to drive like a reasonable person. Whether a defendant had a duty to the plaintiff is a question of law that is ordinarily determined by the judge.

The Breach of Duty

The next step is showing that the defendant breached their legal duty to the plaintiff. Generally speaking, a defendant breaches their duty by not exercising reasonable care in fulfilling the duty. 

For example, a driver who drives too fast is breaching their duty to drive as a reasonable person. Whether a defendant breached their duty is a question of fact that is decided by the jury.

Proving the Breach Caused the Injury

The third element of a negligence claim is causation. For example, an at-fault driver's breach of duty directly caused the car crash and the resulting serious injuries.

This link between the breach of duty and the accident is crucial in personal injury casesIt consists of two parts: causation in fact and proximate causation.

Cause in fact is a simple test: "but for" the defendant's actions, the plaintiff's injury would not have occurred.

Proximate cause, however, is a little more complicated. It relates to the scope of a defendant's responsibility. The scope of responsibility depends on whether the harm to the plaintiff could have been foreseen by the defendant. If the harm could not have been foreseen, the plaintiff cannot prove proximate cause.

Proving the Injury Caused Damages

The final element a plaintiff must prove is damages. Proving damages requires a plaintiff to establish a legally recognized harm. This is usually physical injury or property damage. 

Medical expenses such as emergency room visits, medical treatments, and ongoing rehabilitation can add up quickly. These expenses can become a significant part of the claim against the at-fault driver or their insurance company.

For a negligence claim to succeed, the defendant's breach of duty must have caused actual damages to the plaintiff.

Car Accident Cases Involving Negligence

Car accidents, also referred to as motor vehicle accidents or auto accidents, are one of the most common situations where negligence comes into play. Motorists are expected to follow traffic laws and drive responsibly to ensure safety. Failure to do so can result in a car crash, which could lead to significant injuries or property damage.

A breach of this duty, such as running a red light or a rear-end collision due to distraction, can be grounds for a negligence claim. In these scenarios, the negligence principles come into action. It must be proven that:

  • The offending motorist owed a duty of care to the victim
  • The motorist breached that duty by violating traffic laws or driving irresponsibly
  • This breach directly caused the accident and the damages

Following a car accident, getting prompt medical treatment should be a priority. Any delay might lead to the insurance company or the at-fault driver disputing the connection between the accident and the injuries sustained.

How Lawyers Help Assess and Prove Negligence

Each car accident case is unique with its own set of circumstances. Hiring a car accident attorney can be beneficial for those involved in car accident cases. This is especially true if injuries are severe or if there's a dispute about who was at fault.

A car accident lawyer has the knowledge and experience to:

  • Gather evidence
  • Evaluate the extent of the other party's negligence
  • Explain your rights as the injured party
  • Construct a compelling case
  • Represent your interests, either in negotiations with insurance companies or in court if necessary

Car accident lawyers can assist plaintiffs in quantifying damages, which includes factors such as:

  • Physical harm
  • Property damage
  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of earnings
  • Pain and suffering

The outcome of a negligence claim from a motor vehicle accident can change based on professional legal advice. That's why it's wise to get a case review soon after the incident.

Negligence in Wrongful Death Accident Claims

When a car accident results in the unfortunate and tragic loss of life, a wrongful death claim may arise. Wrongful death claims can occur if the victim was killed as a result of negligence or misconduct of another party.

Similar to other negligence cases, the surviving family members must prove that the at-fault party breached their duty of care, which directly caused the death of the victim and resulted in damages. These claims aim to provide financial compensation to the surviving family members for losses such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship, and funeral expenses.

Severe Nonfatal Accidents

On the other hand, an accident claim generally applies when the injured party survives the incident. In such cases, the injured party or their legal representative files a claim against the at-fault party to recover compensation for damages incurred as a result of the accident. Damages can include medical bills, loss of income, and compensation for pain and suffering.

Medical bills form a significant part of the claim, as they account for emergency room visits, hospital stays, surgeries, medications, rehabilitative therapy, and any necessary future medical care. The injured party has the right to claim these expenses from the at-fault party or their insurance company.

Comparative and Contributory Negligence in Personal Injury Law

In the realm of personal injury law, particularly in the tort of negligence, two terms you might come across are comparative negligence and contributory negligence. These doctrines deal with situations where both the plaintiff and the defendant contributed to the accident or injury. The rules around these concepts can significantly impact the outcome of a negligence case.

Contributory Negligence

This is an older rule that is followed by a small number of states. Under this rule, if a plaintiff is found to have been even slightly negligent, say 1% at fault, they cannot recover any damages from the other party. This doctrine can lead to harsh outcomes, which has led many states to adopt the more lenient rule of comparative negligence.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence recognizes that more than one party can share fault in a car accident.

Under this more common rule, the damage award is reduced by the plaintiff's percentage of fault. For example, if you were 20% at fault for the accident that caused your injury, and your total damages were $100,000, you would receive $80,000.

There are two main types of comparative negligence: pure and modified. In a pure system, plaintiffs can recover damages even if they are 99% at fault. In a modified system, plaintiffs can't recover damages if they are equally to blame (50/51% or more) or more at fault than the other party.

Get Legal Advice From a Personal Injury Lawyer

Even if you believe that all of the negligence elements are present, it can still be difficult to prevail in a personal injury claim. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury because of someone else's negligence, contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your claim.

Learn About Negligence

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