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Guide to Negligence

People can become injured in all sorts of accidents that occur in daily life, and often those accidents are simply random occurrences and no fault of anyone else’s. However, there are many other cases in which a person’s behavior can cause harm to another individual. When a person’s actions cause someone else to be injured, and these actions were not reasonable under the circumstances, it legally can be considered negligence, and may be the basis for the injured party to file a personal injury lawsuit and obtain compensation for their damages.

The concept of negligence can be confusing, but our attorneys are here to help you. Read our guide to negligence to find out how to prove negligence, who is liable in negligence cases, and how personal injury lawyers can help with your negligence claim.

What is Negligence in Law?

Legally, negligence is defined as “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” Essentially, someone who acted negligently did not act as a reasonable person would in the same scenario.

There is an unspoken rule that everyone is supposed to act “reasonably” while out in the world. When determining negligence in a legal case, the person who behaved negligently is measured by a standard of reasonable care, meaning that the person’s actions could be considered negligent if they did not behave as a typically reasonable or prudent person would in the same situation. For example, say a bus driver decides to drink alcohol before starting his shift. While driving, he veers off the road and crashes into a fire hydrant, injuring some passengers as a result. The bus driver would legally be considered negligent, because when measured against the ordinary standard of care, it is clear that a reasonable person would not have driven the bus while intoxicated. Even without the alcohol component, his actions as a driver were negligent. Specifically, a reasonable driver does not, without reason, veer off the road and collide into a fire hydrant. Negligence!

As mentioned previously, negligence is the basis for most personal injury cases. If someone’s negligent actions cause life-altering harm to someone else, then the harmed person can sue the negligent person for compensation that will, or as close to normal as financially approximate or measure their damages. In personal injury cases, the defendant is the party accused of being negligent (or the party being sued) and the plaintiff is the injured party, or the person bringing the case.

If negligence can be proven, then the injured party has the option to file a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent party.

How to Prove Negligence

Although it is important to understand the legal definition of negligence, simply defining it is not sufficient grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit. Establishing or proving negligence is necessary to make a claim. In order to do that, the injured party needs to prove that the four elements of negligence exist in their case. The four elements of negligence are:

  1. Duty of care. This refers to the legal concept that every person has a responsibility to act with a certain degree of care in order to avoid causing others harm. This duty can apply in a variety of situations, from driving, to construction work, to product manufacturing. A common example that clearly shows duty of care is traffic laws. In general, all drivers have a responsibility not to cause harm to others they share the road with, and traffic laws spell out the specific things that drivers must do (such as following the speed limit and stopping at red lights) in order to avoid causing harm while on the road.
  2. Breach of duty of care. If someone breaches their duty of care, it means that they have violated the laws that are generally meant to keep people safe. For example, keeping with the example above, a driver would breach his duty of care if he drove while intoxicated, ran a red light, or drove above the speed limit, as all those actions are not only against the law, but are expected of reasonable people when they get behind the wheel.
  3. Causation. After a duty of care and a breach of that duty of care have been established, it must be proven that there is causation between the negligent action and the harm done to the plaintiff. This means that the plaintiff must show that there is a direct link between the defendant’s behavior (or lack thereof) and the plaintiff’s injuries. This can be done through cause in fact, or through proximate cause.“Cause in fact” is a legal term meaning that the plaintiff’s harm was caused directly by the defendant’s actions; for example, the defendant ran a red light and struck the plaintiff while they were walking in a crosswalk. “Proximate cause” is a legal term meaning that the plaintiff’s harm was caused in some way by the plaintiff’s actions, even if not directly. For example, the defendant ran a red light, and an oncoming car swerved to avoid a collision, but struck a crossing pedestrian in the process. Although the pedestrian’s injuries were not caused directly by the driver that ran the red light, it is likely they would not have been injured if not for that driver. Essentially, the question being answered is, if the defendant’s actions hadn’t occurred, would the plaintiff have been harmed?
  4. Damages. Finally, after causation has been established, it must be demonstrated that the plaintiff suffered injuries and damages as a result of the accident. Personal injury damages can include, but are not limited to: medical bills for current and future treatment, loss of income, property damage, pain and suffering, deterioration of quality of life, and emotional trauma.

To sum up, in order to prove negligence and have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit, the above four elements must be established by the plaintiff. The defendant must have had a duty of care and then breached it, in such a way that their actions caused the plaintiff to sustain damages. Understanding the four elements of negligence can be confusing; if you have questions, it is best to speak to a personal injury attorney regarding your case.

Who is Liable in Negligence Cases?

Even if you have established negligence in a case, determining who is at fault is not always straightforward. There are multiple ways of figuring out liability in a personal injury case. These include:

Comparative and Contributory Negligence

Comparative negligence and contributory negligence are two different methods of determining fault that can impact the amount of compensation the plaintiff receives. Most states either adhere to comparative negligence or contributory negligence when determining liability in negligence cases.

Comparative negligence states that multiple parties can be found liable for causing an accident. This means that even the plaintiff can be found at fault if it can be proven that they contributed in some way to causing the accident that harmed them. If that is the case and the plaintiff is found partially at fault for their accident, then the plaintiff’s compensation for their damages can be reduced by the percentage they are found liable.

For example, if the defendant in a negligence case rear-ended another vehicle, he would likely be found mostly at fault. However, say the plaintiff (the driver who was rear-ended) was texting while driving and did not notice an upcoming stop sign until they had to stop short, causing the driver behind them to have less time to stop. In this case, it is possible the plaintiff could be found partially liable for the accident as well, and his compensation would be reduced by his percentage of fault.

Contributory negligence is when a plaintiff may be barred from obtaining compensation for their damages if they are found to be liable for their accident. For instance, in some states, if the plaintiff is found to be 50% or more at fault, they will not be able to obtain compensation. It is uncommon for states to use contributory negligence in personal injury cases, as it is relatively harsh on the plaintiff.

Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability is a legal concept that allows one entity to be found at fault for another’s negligent actions. Vicarious liability is commonly applied to businesses, because a company is generally responsible for the behavior of its employees, as long as the employee was acting in the scope of their employment. For example, say an employee was completing deliveries in a company-owned car, and got into a car accident, injuring passengers in another vehicle. The employee’s company could be found liable for the accident, because the employee had been completing job duties at the time. Businesses have a duty to hire employees that are responsible, so if an employee acts recklessly or carelessly, the company that hired them is considered to be negligent.

Assumption of Risk

Assumption of risk is sometimes applied in personal injury cases when considering fault. In certain scenarios, assumption of risk can place fault with the plaintiff, if he was injured because of an activity he chose to participate in where there was clearly risk involved and he was aware of that risk. An example is an amusement park ride that clearly states the possible risks involved to riders before they board the ride. If a plaintiff was injured on the ride, they might not be able to recover the same amount of damages they would have been entitled to previously because they knew there was a risk involved, but they still chose to accept that risk and ride.

Personal Injury Lawyers Obtaining Results for Victims of Negligence

When someone acts recklessly and causes harm to someone else, their negligence can have legal consequences. If you or a loved one has been injured and believe negligence caused your damages, you may be legally entitled to compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury attorney can listen to your case and help you determine the best way to proceed.

The lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy are experts in handling negligence claims. Noteworthy results we have obtained for clients who have been injured due to another party’s negligence include:

  • $110,174,972 record-breaking jury verdict for a bicyclist who was paralyzed from the waist down after being struck by a falling railroad tie while biking under an overhead construction site he was told was safe
  • $32,756,156 record-breaking jury verdict for a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran who was struck violently by an intoxicated driver and suffered life-altering injuries as a result
  • $22,500,000 settlement for a 32-year-old man who needed over 20 surgeries after his arm was seriously injured in a car accident caused by icy roads
  • $15,000,000 settlement for the surviving family of a 38-year-old HVAC worker who was tragically killed on the job when he was crushed by a 28,450-pound object that was being hoisted by inadequate chains
  • $14,000,000 settlement for a motorcyclist who was hit by a truck making a left turn even though he did not have sufficient visibility, resulting in a below-the-knee amputation of the motorcyclist’s leg
  • $13,500,000 record-breaking settlement for a 24-year-old woman who suffered catastrophic injuries, including brain damage, after she was struck by a company-owned vehicle
  • $12,000,000 settlement for a union tunnel worker who sustained orthopedic and neurological injuries after he fell 40 feet down a ventilation shaft while working on a construction site
  • $11,500,000 settlement for a union construction worker who suffered multiple lacerated tendons and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome when the defective saw he was given to use kicked back
  • $10,500,000 settlement for the family of a worker who was tragically killed when he was struck in the neck by a defective saw he had been given to use at his work site
  • $9,950,000 settlement for a 28-year-old social worker who required a leg amputation after she was struck by a van that violently drove into the parking lot where she was standing

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