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What Is Negligence? 

What Does Negligence Mean?

Negligence is a word used widely in the legal community, but what does it mean? Negligence is the failure to conduct oneself with the level of care owed to others as a reasonable prudent person would have conducted themself if they were under similar circumstances.

For example: If someone decides to get behind the wheel of a vehicle knowing that they are intoxicated and then someone gets killed because they drove while under the influence this would be considered negligence. A reasonable person would not get behind the wheel of a vehicle especially while under the influence because of the risk of injuring or killing someone.

Negligence is a very important concept when it comes to personal injury cases. Essentially, the lawsuit will be devoted to trying to establish the defendant’s actions were negligent.

The Elements of Negligence

There are four elements of negligence.  These include:

  1. Duty of care,
  2. Breach of the duty of care,
  3. Causation, and
  4. The existence of damages.

Each element must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence to succeed on a negligence claim.

Element #1: Duty of Care

Duty of care is the responsibility to act with a certain degree of sensible caution and good sense. This element is the easiest to prove since laws already establish a duty of care for people in situations.  Often lawyers may need to consult with experts to determine what specific duty of care coincides with the situation in which the plaintiff’s injury occurred.

An example of exercising the appropriate duty of care while driving a car would include stopping at all red lights, stop signs, or also stopping for pedestrians walking across the street. The duty of care is to act in accordance with a reasonable prudent person under similar circumstances.  The “reasonable prudent person” is a fictional concept. Practically speaking, the reasonable prudent person is a very high standard in that this fictional character would never consume alcohol or substances under any circumstances, never break a law, and would always do everything perfectly.

Element #2: Breach

In order for the element of breach to be established an individual has to be owed a duty and the plaintiff must also prove that the defendant breached that duty of care. The plaintiff must prove that an average person who has the same knowledge as the defendant would have acted differently if they were put in the same situation.  A reasonable prudent person under the same circumstances as the defendant would have known that their action or lack of action could cause an injury to the plaintiff.

Element #3: Causation

Once a violation of duty of care has been proven, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s reckless actions in fact legally caused the plaintiff’s injuries or harm suffered. A legal nexus or connection between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s injury is called causation. The plaintiff must also show that there was a reasonable expectation. This in which the defendant could have foreseen that their actions might cause an injury to the plaintiff.  The plaintiff must have been a foreseeable plaintiff for whom injury would result. The concept of foreseeability is known as proximate causation. The defendant’s breach must have been the “cause in fact” and also the “proximate cause” of the plaintiff’s harm. That is, “but for” the defendant’s conduct the plaintiff would not have been injured and it was reasonably foreseeable. That if the defendant fell below the appropriate standard of care the plaintiff would be harmed.

Element #4: Damages

Once the plaintiff has proven that the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s injury, then damages must be proven. To receive any kind of compensation, the plaintiff will have to show that the defendant’s actions caused real harm. And this can be the most complicated part in a negligence lawsuit. In order for damages to be proven, evidence is presented to the jury such as medical bills, bills to repair property damage due to the incident, loss of income, loss of future earning capacity, and any out-of-pocket monetary expenses due to the incident.  The plaintiff may need to retain expert witnesses, such as doctors, life care planners, economists, bio-mechanical engineers, or anyone who can testify that the plaintiff’s injuries resulted from the defendant’s actions and not anything else.

Proving Negligence

There are different ways an attorney may prove the elements of negligence. For example, if the defendant received a citation due to the incident then it is much easier to establish who is at fault for any injuries or property damage. The violation of a statute can be introduced into evidence as a presumption that the defendant breached its duty of care. This legal theory is known as “negligence per se”.

Another type of compelling evidence is eyewitness testimony. People who witnessed the incident can testify to what they observed.

Defense Arguments 

The defendant will argue that the plaintiff had actual knowledge of any danger. Therefore, the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury and the defendant is not responsible. The defendant may also argue that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by their own negligence. If successful, then the plaintiff will be unable to recover compensation and could also be held liable for the defendant’s legal fees.

Contact Us To Speak With A Lawyer

If you or someone you know has been injured or harmed by the negligence of another, contact an attorney at The Sterling Firm. We have an attorney experienced in handling injuries caused by negligence. We can help! You can call us to speak with an experienced lawyer or Book Your FREE Case Evaluation Now!


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Justin Sterling, Esq. is a leading civil litigator and business lawyer.  Mr. Sterling is the founder of The Sterling Firm, a top-rated law firm with its original headquarters in Los Angeles, California. The Sterling Firm has a client base that stretches not only across the nation but also around the globe. We offer experienced and driven legal counsel for your matter.  The Sterling Firm handles business law, both transactional and litigation

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