Negligence is an area of tort law that encompasses situations where someone failed to exercise the care toward others which a reasonable person would do in the same circumstances, or taking action which such a reasonable person would not. It differs from intentional torts such as assault and battery in that the defendant behaved carelessly, but did not intend to cause harm through their actions. Most personal injury cases are the result of negligence.
Types of Negligence Liability
Negligence can be further broken down and classified depending on how fault is apportioned.
This is a fairly archaic legal concept that precludes an injury victim seeking compensation for damages if the victim was in any way responsible. For example, if you were hit by a truck while driving a car with faulty brakes, it may be determined that at least some of your injuries could have been prevented if your brakes had worked properly. Since you were negligent in not getting your brakes repaired, you are partially at fault for your injuries. In a handful of states, this would mean you had no right to recover for damages.
The system of pure comparative negligence allow plaintiffs to be compensated for damages based entirely on each on each party’s percentage of fault. Using the above example, let’s say it was determined that your injuries were only 20% the result of your ability to brake and 80% the result of the truck driver’s exhaustion — you would be able to seek compensation for 80% of your total damages. California is a “pure” comparative state; several other states rely on a system of modified comparative fault, in which the plaintiff may only pursue compensation if he or she is less than 50% or 51% at fault.
Elements of an Ordinary Negligence Case
In most situations resulting in injury, there are four elements that must be established in order for it to be considered a true case of negligence.
Duty of Care
When a relationship between two parties is recognized by law, and one party is obligated to act responsibly toward the other due to said relationship.
- Commercial truck companies have a duty to keep their vehicles maintained.
- Schools and school districts have a duty to protect students from harm.
- Store owners have a duty to clean up hazardous spills.
- Owners of aggressive dogs have a duty to keep them behind a strong fence.
A breach in the duty of care occurs when the responsible party fails to use adequate care in executing such duties.
- A commercial truck company doesn’t enforce regular inspections.
- A store employees sees a shattered juice bottle but doesn’t clean it up.
- The owner of the aggressive dog leaves the gate unlatched when he goes to work.
The third element of establishing negligence is causation. The victim’s injury or other damages must have been directly caused by the breach of care. It’s called actual cause when the accident would not have occurred if not as a result of the breach; proximate cause is when the accident would have happened anyway, but the damage was made worse by the breach.
Actual cause examples:
- A car is struck by a semi on the freeway because the truck’s horn doesn’t work.
- A store customer slips and falls on spilled juice and is cut by broken glass.
- A postal worker is mauled by an attack dog because the dog was able to escape his yard.
Finally, in order to establish a case of negligence, the victim must have suffered in a manner that can be eased by financial compensation.
- The victim whose car is totaled in a truck accident would be able to cover the cost of a new car.
- The customer injured in the slip and fall accident would be able to afford physical therapy recover from his injuries.
- The postal worker would be able to pay his bills if he was compensated for lost wages.
How Negligence is Proven
There are two types of evidence that may be used to prove a negligence case: direct and circumstantial. Direct evidence can be derived from first-hand witness accounts, photos or video footage, or objects left at the scene. Circumstantial evidence is more complicated and requires investigation and sometimes expert testimony to reach a logical conclusion.
Furthermore, each type of negligence case has specific rules established by the courts in order to meet standards of proof. For example, a medical negligence case may have to prove that the defendant was aware of the plaintiff’s medical history, while a drunk driving case will have to prove that the defendant was intoxicated at the time if the accident.
A few cases may be argued under the premise of res ipsa loquitur, which is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.” This comes into play when the injury accident could not have occurred unless there was a negligent act committed exclusively by the defendant.
What is Gross Negligence?
You may have heard the term “gross negligence,” which refers to an act of extreme carelessness that puts others in danger.
“It is more than simple inadvertence, but it is just shy of being intentionally evil.” -law.com
Something like leaving a loaded gun where a child car reach it could be ruled as gross negligence, and add punitive damages to the plaintiff’s total award.
Do You Have a Negligence Claim?
If these descriptions and examples of negligence bear a resemblance to your personal injury accident, you may well have a case. The best way to find out for sure is to request a free evaluation from an experienced negligence lawyer. Hiring an attorney will help you get the maximum just compensation you deserve.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer