How Do You Prove Negligence?
Four essential elements must be demonstrated to establish negligence and recover for injuries:
- Causation; and
Each of these elements is further explained below.
A duty refers to the responsibility one person owes to another. Generally, people participating in their daily activities owe a duty of ‘reasonable care.’ ‘Reasonable care’ is the level of care an ordinary, prudent person would exercise in the same situation.
For example, if a person drives during a rainstorm, exercising ‘reasonable care’ would involve driving at a slower speed and using their headlights to enhance visibility. A person driving forty miles per hour over the speed limit during a rainstorm would not exercise ‘reasonable care.’
A breach occurs when an individual’s care falls below the standard required by their duty. In the example above, the person driving forty miles per hour over the speed limit during a rainstorm breached their duty of reasonable care.
A breach of duty must be the cause of injury. The legal test for causation is slightly more complicated, but the fundamental test is the ‘but for’ principle. In other words, the injury would not have occurred if not for one party’s actions.
In the example mentioned earlier, if the person driving too fast during a rainstorm didn’t have enough time to stop before hitting another car, then they have breached their duty of reasonable care, which subsequently caused injury to the other car’s occupants.
Generally, some form of harm must have occurred. The type of injury can vary, ranging from property damage and emotional distress to lost wages.
All of the elements mentioned above need to be present to successfully determine that the other party was negligent. If any of these elements cannot be proven, then negligence cannot be established.
What are Some Examples of Negligence?
The clearest example of negligence is personal injury like the car crash mentioned earlier. However, negligence is a versatile concept that can appear in various contexts. Emotional harm, such as PTSD, resulting from negligent conduct can also lead to a lawsuit.
Negligence can occur in the workplace. An employer could be negligent by not providing an employee with proper safety equipment, which would have prevented an injury. Additionally, inadequate training and supervision can lead to employer negligence, causing employee injuries.
Businesses can also act negligently by manufacturing faulty goods that cause injury. Negligently producing or designing goods for sale can result in a lawsuit. For example, not testing a toaster to ensure it doesn’t burst into flames would be negligent manufacturing, and designing a toaster with flammable materials would be negligent design. Both scenarios can land a business in legal trouble.
Even lawyers are not immune to negligence claims. If a lawyer’s conduct falls below the standard level of care expected of lawyers (which is higher than ‘reasonable care’), they can be sued for ‘malpractice.’
Are There Any Defenses to Negligence?
Several defenses can be applied to an allegation of negligence. The most obvious defense is to dispute any of the components of negligence, namely duty, breach, causation, or damages.
Comparative and Contributory Negligence
Two related defenses are contributory and comparative negligence. Depending on state law, either one will apply, but the general idea remains the same. Both defenses examine whether the injured party is somehow responsible for their injury.
In contributory negligence jurisdictions, any negligence on the part of the injured person entirely bars recovery (meaning they receive nothing). In a comparative negligence jurisdiction, the injured person can still recover, but their recovery is reduced by the degree to which they themselves were negligent.
Assumption of the Risk
Assumption of the risk is a defense essentially stating that the injured person knew they were engaging in an inherently dangerous activity and chose to do it anyway. If this defense is successful, the defending party will not have to pay for damages. For example, skiing is an activity that everyone knows could result in breaking a leg, but people choose to ski regardless.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations sets a time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed. If the plaintiff fails to file a lawsuit within the prescribed period, the defendant can use this as a defense to dismiss the case.
This defense involves a subsequent event that occurs after the defendant’s allegedly negligent conduct but before the injury is suffered.
If the subsequent event was unforeseeable and broke the chain of causation between the defendant’s conduct and the injury, the defendant may not be held liable.
Let’s say that a construction company is working on a building and leaves a large piece of machinery on the sidewalk. A pedestrian walking down the sidewalk trips over the machinery and injures themselves. The pedestrian decides to sue the construction company for negligence.
However, it turns out that after the pedestrian tripped over the machinery, a car ran a red light and collided with another vehicle, causing a chain reaction of crashes that eventually led to the pedestrian’s injury.
The construction company could argue that the subsequent car accident was an unforeseeable event that broke the chain of causation between their negligence (leaving the machinery on the sidewalk) and the pedestrian’s injury. As a result, they may not be held liable for the pedestrian’s injuries.
In some cases, the government may be immune from liability for negligence. This immunity usually applies to discretionary functions, such as decisions made by government officials that involve policy-making or planning.
Let’s say that a city government is responsible for maintaining a local park. One day, a person walking in the park trips and falls over a crack in the sidewalk, injuring themselves. The injured person decides to sue the city government for negligence.
However, it turns out that the crack in the sidewalk was caused by a tree root that had grown over time and lifted the concrete. The city government had a policy to inspect the park’s sidewalks and make repairs as needed. Still, due to limited resources, they had not yet gotten around to inspecting the area where the injury occurred.
In this case, the city government may be able to claim government immunity as a defense to the negligence claim. Since the decision to prioritize and allocate resources for sidewalk inspections and repairs involves policy-making and planning, it is considered a discretionary function, and the government may be immune from liability for the injured person’s injuries.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Am Dealing with a Negligence Lawsuit?
Dealing with negligence can be a challenging and costly issue. However, LegalMatch can help you find a local personal injury lawyer to guide you through your case.
A personal injury attorney can handle negotiations with the other party, give you advice on how to proceed, and advocate for you in court.
If you plan to litigate the lawsuit, it is especially important to have an attorney on your side. LegalMatch can help match you with the right attorney for your case, making the legal process more manageable and less stressful.
Use LegalMatch to find the right personal injury lawyer for your case today.