Simply put, negligence is the legal theory allowing for injured parties to recover for the carelessness of others. A person is considered to be negligent if they were careless given the circumstances of the situation.
There are four major parts that must be shown in order to recover a damages award for injuries sustained due to someone’s negligence. It is important to note that even when those four elements are shown, and negligence is established, a defense could mitigate how much a defending party must pay.
The four elements of a negligence claim are:
- Duty: The responsibility one person owes to another. Generally speaking, people who are going about their day owe a duty of ‘reasonable care.’ This is the level of care any ordinary and reasonably prudent person would use in the same situation. An example of this would be if a person is driving during inclement weather. They would be exercising reasonable care by driving under the speed limit, or by taking other preventive measures. Alternatively, a driver would not be exercising reasonable care if they were driving over the speed limit, or took no other preventive measures as determined by the circumstances;
- Breach: A breach occurs when a person’s level of care falls below the level required by their duty. To continue the above example, the person driving over the speed limit breached their duty of reasonable care by speeding during inclement weather. This places other drivers at risk, and as such, is considered to be a breach of duty;
- Causation: To put it simply, the breach of a duty must be the cause of injury. Although the legal test for causation is considerably more complex than that, the basic test is ‘but for’ one party’s actions the injury would not have occurred. In the ongoing example, if the person speeding during inclement weather did not have enough time to stop before hitting another vehicle, they have breached their duty of reasonable care. This breach then caused injury to the other car. But for the speeding party’s actions, the other car would not have been injured; and
- Damages: Generally speaking, there must be some sort of quantifiable harm that occurred. The specific type of injury can vary but extends to property damage, emotional stress, and lost wages.
To summarize, negligence refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care, with that failure resulting in the damage or injury of another person. The theory of negligence is based on a person’s failure to take reasonable precautions, as opposed to their direct actions.
What Is Negligence In a Car Accident Lawsuit?
A lawsuit which involves negligence in a car accident is generally based on the legal theory that the injured party has losses that they can recover from. As previously mentioned, negligence does not involve intentional acts; it is not common that someone intends to get into a car accident.
In order to succeed in a car accident lawsuit based on negligence, it must be legally proven that the other party involved in the accident was indeed at fault. Because of this, negligence claims generally involve complex analysis in order to determine whether the defendant failed to follow their duty of safety.
Some of the most common examples of negligent driving include, but may not be limited to:
- Failing to Obey Traffic Laws: This can include running stop lights or red lights; failing to yield when required to do so; speeding, or driving too slowly; and, stopping over the line at an intersection;
- Failing to Be Vigilant Behind the Wheel: This specific type of negligence refers to failing to maintain a reasonable level of vigilance or alertness while driving, in order to be prepared for any unexpected occurrences on the road around you. The most common and especially dangerous example of failing to be vigilant behind the wheel would be using a cell phone while driving;
- Failing to Maintain Control of the Vehicle: Failing to maintain control of the vehicle refers to instances such as sudden stops, stopping over the line at an intersection, and swerving; and
- Failing to Properly Use the Vehicle’s Equipment: An example of this would be failing to use the vehicle’s turn signal when turning. Two other examples include failure to dim high beams when necessary, or failing to engage hazard lights when necessary. It is important to note that failing to maintain parts in working order, such as having broken brake lights, is included in the definition of failure to properly use the vehicle’s equipment.
Because of the highly dangerous nature of drunk driving, it is not considered to be negligent. Rather, it has its own category of laws. Drunk driving is generally considered to be a criminal offense, while negligence is a civil violation. It is important to note that both criminal and civil charges can be brought against the same defendant for the same incident.
What this means is that a drunk driver can be criminally charged for driving while intoxicated, and then also have a civil lawsuit brought against them for the damages they caused while drunk driving.
How Is Negligence Proven In Car Accident Lawsuits?
As previously discussed, there are four elements that must all be met in order for negligence to be proven. In terms of proving negligence in a car accident lawsuit, those four elements can be further explained:
- Duty Of Care: To reiterate, a duty of care is owed to another person in any situation when they could possibly and foreseeably be harmed by your actions. All drivers owe other drivers a duty to drive safely, as well as a duty to obey all traffic laws at all times. The standard of care that is owed is generally determined by what a reasonably prudent person would do;
- Breach Of Duty: It must be shown that the defendant breached their duty to drive safely. An example of this would be if the defendant failed to obey visible traffic signs. Once again, breaches occur when a person does not act as reasonably or as prudent as any other person would under the same circumstances;
- Causation: The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach is what actually caused their injuries. If the defendant’s actions did not actually cause the plaintiff’s injuries, it is unlikely that the defendant would be held liable for negligence; and
- Damages: Additionally, the plaintiff must be able to calculate the losses and costs associated with the injury, and put this into quantifiable monetary amounts. If they cannot do so, the damages awarded to them may be reduced or even denied. Damage awards may be physical, economical, and/or financial.
Remedies for negligence in a car accident generally include damages being awarded to the injured party, which are made by the negligent party. Damages include costs such as:
- Hospital bills;
- Mechanic repair fees; and
- Lost wages.
The negligent party may have their driver’s license privileges temporarily suspended. In more serious or repeated offenses, their driver’s license could be completely revoked.
Do I Need An Attorney For Negligence In a Car Accident Lawsuit?
If you have been involved in a car accident and feel the other party was negligent, you should consult with an experienced and local car accident lawyer. Many laws associated with negligence vary from state to state.
An attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s laws regarding negligence in a car accident, and can provide you with relevant legal advice. An experienced personal injury attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, and can work towards a suitable damages award.