What Does Negligence Mean in a Personal Injury Case?
A television commercial currently being aired by a major insurance company features a plethora of harm caused by silly, careless, yet unintentional behavior on the part of ordinary people. This commercial is not just entertaining; it also paints a vivid picture of negligence.
When somebody accidently makes a mistake that causes someone else to get injured, they can be held liable for any damages suffered due to their careless behavior — this is negligence. Someone who may have acted negligently does not set out to injure another person, but their careless actions end up causing harm in some way.
Some examples of negligence that could lead to a personal injury case include:
- A business owner who tells an employee to mop his floor but forgets to put up a “wet floor” sign
- A driver who unknowingly drives at night with his headlights off
- A dog owner who forgets to lock the gate to his backyard and the dog escapes and bites someone
- A company that releases a drug to the public without first fully testing it to identify potential side effects
- A venue that holds an event likely to bring in large numbers of people, but fails to provide adequate security
How Do I Know If I Have a Negligence Case?
Because the harm caused by negligence is unintentional, the core concept is that a person should take care not to injure another person, the same degree of care that any reasonable person would take under similar circumstances. Negligent behavior can be a careless act or a failure to act resulting in harm, which is known as an omission.
To establish a prima facie case of negligence, or one in which there is enough evidence to prove the case at trial, some specific elements must be present — duty, breach of duty, proximate cause, and damages. Sometimes actual cause is also present, which may bolster the claim. If any one element is missing, the case will likely fail.
The general rule regarding duty is that whenever someone’s conduct creates a foreseeable or probable risk of injury or damage, a duty of care arises to take reasonable precautions to prevent that injury or damage.
A duty is established when the law recognizes a relationship between the plaintiff (the person who was injured) and the defendant (the person whose careless behavior resulted in the injury). Because of this relationship, the defendant is required to act with reasonable care, which means a degree of caution and concern for his safety as well as the safety of others that an ordinary, rational person would use in a similar situation.
Breach of Duty
Once it has been established that the defendant owed a duty of reasonable care to the plaintiff, he is liable for negligence when he breaches that duty by not exercising reasonable care. Rule of thumb: The greater the danger, the greater the caution needed.
For a defendant to be held liable, it must be shown that the particular acts or omissions were the cause of the loss or damage sustained.
In order to prove negligence, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant’s actions caused his injury. This is also known as “but-for” causation — but for the defendant’s actions, the plaintiff would not have been injured.
Proximate cause relates to the scope of the defendant’s responsibility in a negligence action. The defendant is only responsible for harm that he could have foreseen through his actions.
Negligence requires proof of actual harm, commonly known as damages, which may include medical bills, property damage, and lost wages suffered as a result of the accident.
In order to recover monetarily, the plaintiff must prove that actual damages were suffered. Said another way, if you slip and fall on an icy sidewalk, but you don’t tear your clothing, incur medical bills, or miss work as a result of the incident, you may not have a personal injury case because you had no actual damages.
Proving Negligence Can Be an Uphill Battle
Negligence cases are often difficult to prove, and a personal injury attorney will do careful analysis to determine if the case is missing any one of the elements discussed above. Fault is typically proven through two types of evidence, direct and circumstantial.
Along with the other elements, damages play an extremely vital role in a negligence case and the plaintiff will not prevail based upon the injury alone. Basically, no damages and no potential recovery = no case.