Free Consultation, Talk to a Real Lawyer Now.

What Is the Difference Between Negligence and Negligence Per Se?

In California, two of the legal theories that you can use to hold someone liable for an accident or injury are negligence and negligence per se. If you are a party to a personal injury case, knowing the distinction between these two ideas can be crucial.

The legal doctrine of negligence frequently applies in personal injury lawsuits to hold someone responsible for harming another. The plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) must demonstrate that:

  • The defendant (the person being sued) had a legal obligation to act with reasonable care;
  • The defendant violated this duty of care; and 
  • The plaintiff suffered injuries that were the result of the defendant’s violation.

For instance, if you violate your obligation to drive safely by driving too fast during a snowstorm, you may be liable for any resulting accident.

Negligence per se is a legal principle that only applies when the defendant has broken a safety law or rule. Under negligence per se, the plaintiff does not need to demonstrate that the defendant had a responsibility to behave with reasonable care. The plaintiff needs only to demonstrate that the defendant broke a safety law or rule and that the breach is what led to the plaintiff’s damages. In other words, the safety law or rule serves as the standard of care.

For instance, if you cause an accident while breaking a traffic rule (such as speeding or running a red light), your behavior might constitute negligence per se.

If and only if all three of the following legal elements exist, you can establish negligence per se in California:

  • The defendant broke a safety rule or statute;
  • The purpose of the safety rule or statute was to prevent the kind of harm that took place; and
  • The victim belonged to the group of people that the rule or legislation aimed to protect.

For instance, if you hurt a pedestrian by violating a right-of-way law, your action may have constituted negligence per se.

So What’s the Fundamental Difference Between the Two?

In cases of negligence, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant owed them a duty to act with “reasonable care.” The standard of care, then, is ambiguous.

In cases of negligence per se, the plaintiff only needs to demonstrate that the defendant broke a rule or law. The standard of care is clear–either you broke the law or you didn’t.

If you are a party to a personal injury case in California, knowing the distinction can be crucial.

The Issue of Causation

Proving negligence per se will not win your case all by itself. All it does is prove that you were negligent. But “negligence in the air” is not enough. To establish liability, you must prove that you suffered an injury and that the defendant’s negligence caused your injury. Two types of causation exist. You must prove that both of them were present at the time of the accident: cause in fact and proximate cause.

  • Cause in fact is “but for” causation – if the defendant had not done the act in question, the plaintiff would not have suffered the injury. Cause in fact is a necessary component of liability, but it is not enough.
  • Proximate cause, when combined with cause in fact, provides the type of causation that establishes a sufficient link between the defendant’s behavior and the plaintiff’s injury. Proximate cause is present when the defendant’s injury was a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s negligence.

Finally, the plaintiff must prove every dime of the damages they are claiming.

Let a Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer Sort It Out

If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is. Even if you “win,” you might win far less money than you deserve. If you think you might have a negligence per se claim, schedule a free initial consultation with a lawyer. An experienced Los Angeles personal injury can examine your claim, estimate its true value, tell you what they think your chances are, and advise you of your options.

Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in Los Angeles, CA

If you were injured in an accident in Los Angeles, CA or you lost a loved one and you need legal assistance, please contact us to schedule a free consultation. One of our Los Angeles personal injury lawyers at M&Y Personal Injury Lawyers will get in touch with you soon.

M&Y Personal Injury Lawyers – Los Angeles Office
4929 Wilshire Blvd Suite 960,
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(855) 599-2987

M&Y Personal Injury Lawyers – Downtown Office
350 S Figueroa St Suite 276
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(877) 751-8953

Tell Us Your Story