How to Prove Negligence
UPDATED: February 5, 2020
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When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you will likely need to prove the other party was negligent in order to recover damages for your injuries. Negligence is a legal term for carelessness that causes personal injury, and it must exist in order for a defendant to be responsible for injuries. Personal injury attorneys have experience proving negligence, and can be contacted for consultations before taking legal action.
The Elements of Negligence
Typically, there are four requirements for a lawsuit based on negligence:
- The negligent person had a duty to the person harmed;
- The person breached that duty by failing to act as a reasonably prudent person would have acted in similar circumstances;
- Their conduct was the cause of the harm;
- There was an actual and measurable injury to the victim.
In order to prove negligence in a personal injury lawsuit, each of these elements must suggest that the defendant was responsible for your injuries. If you have questions about whether or not these four elements are present in your personal injury case, contact an experienced attorney for assistance prior to taking legal action.
How to Prove Negligence Elements
In order to prove negligence by satisfying the four elements, you will need to satisfy the legal requirements for each one. Although state law and the nature of your injury will vary how the law views the elements, the interpretation of negligence follows some general rules:
Duty of Care:The plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty of care toward the plaintiff. A person has a duty to avoid causing injury to another if a reasonable person in the same situation could foresee that an action (or failure to act) might cause injury. Some cases are very clear. We all know that someone might be harmed if we run a red light, so we have a duty of care to follow traffic laws and signals. Other cases are more difficult. If a homeowner has a private swimming pool in a fenced yard, does he have a duty to prevent a neighbor child from climbing the fence and accidentally drowning in the pool? How much care would a reasonable person take in that situation? In each case, the circumstances surrounding the injury play an important role in determining whether or not a defendant had a duty of care towards the plaintiff.
Breach of Duty:The plaintiff must show that the defendants failed to carry out their duty of care. For example, a normal person could foresee that a van full of explosives might blow up, so a person who parks such a van in a crowded mall parking lot has breached the duty of care to the other people in the mall. If the van explodes, the driver will be guilty of negligence. A person could also foresee that a car that isn’t repaired properly might malfunction, so if the brakes on a poorly maintained car fail and the car hits a child, the owner of the car has breached the duty of care to that child. Every car owner has a duty to maintain the car in a safe condition. On the other hand, if the owner regularly maintains and repairs the car and the brakes failed because the brakes were faulty or the mechanic made a mistake, the owner did not breach a duty of care, though the brake manufacturer or the mechanic might be responsible.
Cause:The plaintiff must show that the defendant’s breach of duty caused the injury for which the plaintiff is suing. Sometimes causation is clear. If you run a red light and hit a pedestrian, you clearly caused the injury. If the pedestrian’s elderly mother has a heart attack and dies when she hears of her daughter’s injury, did you cause that injury? Probably not, but those are the kinds of issues that have to be resolved in a negligence lawsuit. There may also be questions about what injury was caused by an accident. People often have more than one accident in their lives, so if someone has had two prior back injuries, what injury to the back was caused by the most recent fall down a flight of stairs?
Damages:Damages in a negligence lawsuit try to put the plaintiff in the same position he or she would be in if the accident hadn’t happened. A plaintiff must show the monetary value of his or her injuries. For example, if a person is disabled and can no longer work, a calculation of damages would consider the occupation of the plaintiff and the amount he or she would have earned during the time left in a normal working career. Damages would also include medical costs and estimated costs for medical care, special accommodations, and assisted living.
In some situations defendants are liable for negligence because of the operation of law, and not because they directly caused an injury. For example, since an employer is held responsible for injuries caused by employees during work, FedEx may be liable if a FedEx driver has an accident while making deliveries. A hospital might be held liable for injury caused by only one nurse. Plaintiffs often make claims against several defendants to make sure there will be enough assets (money) to pay a judgment. If you think you have an injury based on someone else's negligence, you should contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.