By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Garrett Monteagudo, Esq. | Last reviewed January 20, 2023
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Probably 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, which results in someone else getting hurt or property being damaged. Negligence can often be a difficult area of law to define because 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 introductory and in-depth information on negligence in personal injury cases. In this section, you can also find helpful summaries of state laws on negligence.
An Overview of Negligence
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 harm he or she causes to another person or property. Sometimes the standard of conduct requires a person to act, so it's possible for the omission of an act to give rise to a negligence claim. In order to prove that a defendant was negligent, a plaintiff must prove the elements of negligence. The elements of negligence are: duty, breach, causation, and damages. Although this seems fairly straightforward, proving these elements involves a lot of legal knowledge and analysis.
Proving a Negligence Case
The first step of proving a negligence case is determining whether or not the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty. Generally, determining if the defendant owed a duty will depend on the circumstances surrounding the injury. For example, a driver owes a duty to other drivers on the road. Basically, that driver owes a duty to drive like a reasonable person. Whether or not a defendant had a duty to the plaintiff is a question of law that is ordinarily determined by the judge.
The next step is showing that the defendant breached his or her duty to the plaintiff. Generally speaking, a defendant breaches his or her duty by not exercising reasonable care in fulfilling the duty. For example, a driver that drives too fast is breaching his or duty to drive as a reasonable person. Whether or not a defendant breached his or her duty is a question of fact that is decided by the jury.
The third element of a negligence case that a plaintiff must prove is causation. Some people split causation into two separate elements: causation in fact and proximate causation. If you choose to leave both as one element, you still need to address both. 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 because it relates to the scope of a defendant's responsibility. Basically, the scope of responsibility depends on if the harm to the plaintiff could have been foreseen by the defendant. In the event that the harm could not have been foreseen, the plaintiff fails to prove the element of proximate causation, and the defendant will not be liable for the injuries.
The final element a plaintiff must prove in order to prevail in a personal injury case based on a claim of negligence is damages. Damages refer to a legally recognized harm, which is usually physical injury or property damage. Basically, the defendant's breach of duty must have caused actual damages to the plaintiff in order for a negligence claim to succeed.
Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
Even if you believe that all of the negligence elements are present, it can still be difficult to make case and prevail in a lawsuit. If you or someone close to you has suffered an injury because of someone else's negligence, it's in your best interest to contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your case.
Learn About Negligence
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