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What is Negligence?

If you’ve been injured as the result of another party’s negligence, then you may be entitled to financial compensation for injuries sustained. However, what is negligence? This blog post will define negligence and explain how this legal concept applies to claimants that have been injured through no fault of their own.  

Negligence contains four elements. Each element must be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence,” (proven that it is more likely than not) in order for a jury to award damages to a plaintiff at trial. The elements are: (1) duty; (2) breach of duty; (3) causation; and (4) injury.  

Negligence can apply to any personal injury matter, but for purposes of simplicity I will apply negligence to a car accident case. Drivers on the road owe each other a duty not to create a dangerous condition for other drivers. A breach of duty exists if another driver fails to follow the rules of the road and causes a car accident. For instance, if a party fails to stop for a red light and enters an intersection resulting in a collision with another driver, that party has breached their duty by creating a dangerous condition for the other driver. When one breaches a duty, it is said that negligence has occurred. However, a claimant must prove that the negligence caused the claimant’s injuries in order to be compensated.  

The element of causation requires a two-step analysis. Firstly, was the negligence the “but for cause,” of the claimant’s injuries, and if so, was the negligence the “proximate cause,” of the claimant’s injuries? But for causation is a simple concept, while proximate causation is a more complicated concept. But for cause is the cause in fact. But for the negligence of the defendant, the plaintiff would not have been injured. For example, if the party involved in the accident, described above, sustained a neck injury when the driver of the other vehicle ran the red light and caused a collision, it is simple to conclude that the but for cause of the injury was the other driver’s negligence.    

Proximate causation can be described as the zone of danger created by the breach of duty. The slightly more complicated question one must ask is whether the injury sustained by the claimant was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s negligence? In our car accident case example above the driver of the vehicle that ran the red light created a zone of danger of injury to other drivers in that particular intersection. The neck injury sustained by the driver that was hit was therefore a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendant running the red light. As such, proximate causation exists.  

The final element required for a negligence claim is the existence of an actual injury. If a claimant is involved in a car accident, but suffers no physical harm, then it is very unlikely that they can pursue a claim against another party.  

If a claimant seeks compensation as the result of a personal injury claim, they must be prepared to show that the defendant owed them a duty and breached that duty which was the cause in fact of reasonably foreseeable injuries. If you believe that you have a negligence claim it is important to contact a lawyer to discuss the validity, and potential value of your claim. There are time limits to filing a negligence claim. Don’t attempt to go it alone.