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Proof in a Negligence Case

Walking through the grocery store, you take a nasty spill after slipping in a puddle of alfredo sauce. You have a sharp pain in your knee and cuts on your arm that require stitches.

Who could be responsible for your injury? The grocery store? The manager? And how are you going to prove they're liable?

Almost every personal injury case revolves around the idea of negligence and fault. This article explains how courts examine those issues.

Negligence Basics

What would a reasonable person do in this situation? That's the fundamental question every negligence case has to answer. That means that negligence hinges on whether the defendant acted as a reasonable person in similar circumstances.

For example, when you sue the store after your fall, the jury must decide if the store acted as a reasonable store would have.

In medical malpractice, the plaintiff's goal is to prove that the doctor didn't conform to established medical standards.

When you're in a car crash you can show negligence by proving that the other driver was not obeying traffic laws.

The Elements of Negligence

You must show the following elements for a successful negligence case:

Ways to Prove Negligence

Negligence is often proven either through direct or circumstantial evidence.

Direct evidence is evidence you derive from one or more of the following:

  • A witness's personal knowledge
  • A photograph
  • A video

Circumstantial evidence is where you must draw an inference from other events or circumstances. For example, you can infer that a driver speeding before a car accident caused the accident.

How A Court Determines Negligence in Different Circumstances

Courts apply special rules to prove negligence in specific types of cases. Proving negligence in a dog bite case differs from doing so in a medical malpractice case.

Consider the slip-and-fall case alfredo sauce incident from above. In that case, your injury occurred because of a condition in the store. You must prove that the store should have known about and cleaned up the spill. Following are examples of evidence that could show negligence:

  • Pictures of alfredo sauce smeared across the floor from customers walking through it
  • Cleaning logs showing that the janitor had not cleaned the aisle for several hours

Proving Negligence With Little Evidence

You can rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur when you lack evidence. Res ipsa loquitur is Latin for "the thing speaks for itself." This theory allows a jury to infer that a defendant was negligent merely because they did or didn't commit the act.

Let's go back to the alfredo sauce slip. For res ipsa loquitur to apply, you must first convince the jury that customers don't usually slip in spilled sauce unless the store is negligent. Then you must show that the store had exclusive control of the sauce that caused your injury, which may prove difficult as other customers walking down the aisle also had access to the sauce.

For another example, suppose a bag of grain injures you on a public sidewalk in front of a grain producer. A bag of grain rarely flies onto a public sidewalk without negligence. Also, the producer presumably had exclusive control over the bag at the time of the accident. So, unlike your alfredo sauce incident, the jury may be able to infer the producer's negligence in this case.

Let a Professional Help You With Your Negligence Case

Negligence cases may appear straightforward, but in reality they can be rather complex. If you think someone else's negligence caused your injury, you should consult with an injury attorney in your area. An attorney can answer your questions and help you understand how negligence applies to your case.

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