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What is Negligence?

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What is Negligence?

Negligence is an important concept related to California personal injury law. When a person is injured in an accident, they will file a lawsuit against a person or an entity alleging that the other party was negligent. That means that the other party failed to exercise a reasonable standard of care under the circumstances. 

A party can fail to satisfy their standard of care through their actions or omissions (i.e., they did or did not do something).

A lawsuit based on negligence requires the plaintiff to establish four separate elements:

  • Duty
  • Breach of Duty
  • Injury, and
  • Causation.

To better explain negligence and its elements, consider the following example. You are driving home from work when all of a sudden you are sideswiped in an intersection. You had a green light, and you were turning left when the other driver failed to stop at a red light. 

As a result of the crash, you are injured. You believe that the driver was not focused on the road because they were texting. In your lawsuit against the other driver, you allege that the other driver was negligent. For your lawsuit to be successful, you will have to prove all of the elements of negligence.

What is a “Duty” in negligence? 

The first negligence element you will need to prove is that the other driver owed you a duty of care. A duty of care is an obligation or responsibility to act in a way that avoids placing others in danger or at risk of harm. Generally, people are expected to act reasonably under the circumstances. Usually, a duty of care is established by California law or custom.

In our example, you would have to prove that the other driver owed you a duty of care. The question would be, how should another driver act under the circumstances? Generally speaking, all drivers have a duty to safely operate their vehicles, including obeying traffic laws and signals. 

Therefore, if the traffic situation was not out of the ordinary (i.e., no damage to the road, obstacles, etc.), then the other driver owed you a duty to act as a reasonable driver under the circumstances. 

What is a “Breach” of Duty in Negligence?

The second element that you would have to prove in your negligence lawsuit is that the other party breached their duty of care to you. This means that the other party’s actions did not meet the standard of care, i.e., that the party acted unreasonably under the circumstances. 

In the example, the other driver acted unreasonably by failing to comply with the traffic laws, e.g., by running the red light/texting while driving. So, in your lawsuit, you will have to offer evidence that the other driver was distracted and breached the duty of care they owed to you. 

What is “Causation” in Negligence?

Next, you will have to prove “causation.” Essentially, you must prove that the other party’s conduct (e.g., running the red light and texting while driving) caused your injuries. More specifically, you must prove that the other party’s actions are the direct and proximate cause of your injuries.

The other person is the direct cause of your injury if you would not have gotten hurt “but for” the party’s conduct. The other person is the proximate cause of your injuries if your injuries were a natural and foreseeable consequence of the other driver’s actions. 

To prove direct cause in our example, you would have to show that you would not have been injured if the other driver was paying attention and stopped at the red light. To prove proximate cause, you would have to prove that all of your injuries (i.e., physical, emotional, and financial) were a foreseeable result of the other driver’s actions.  

What are “Damages” in Negligence? 

The final element that you will have to prove in your negligence lawsuit for it to be successful is that you suffered an injury, or “damages.” In a negligence lawsuit, the damages or an injury component do not have to be bodily injuries. Damages, for purposes of negligence, are defined broadly to include physical, emotional, and financial consequences resulting from the other person’s breach of duty. 

For example,

  • Bodily injury
  • Death
  • Property damage
  • Financial consequences, such as medical bills and lost wages
  • Emotional distress and PTSD 

In our example, let’s say that you suffer a broken arm and PTSD as a result of the crash. You are taken to the hospital after the crash. You have follow-up doctor appointments and therapy appointments, and you miss work for a month. Medical bills and other expenses keep adding up, and quickly. These bills, lost wages, and any further expenses are the damages that you will need to prove for your negligence lawsuit.

If you believe you have a negligence claim, contact a Los Angeles personal injury attorney for help.