A guide to the law and elements of negligence
Negligence is a cause of action in a personal injury case where the defendant harmed the plaintiff by acting unreasonably under the circumstances. Negligence is the main claim in a typical personal injury lawsuit.
The elements of a negligence claim are: (1) duty; (2) breach; (3) causation; and (4) injury.
A plaintiff needs to show that the defendant was under a duty to act as a reasonable person (or reasonable company) would under the circumstances. Generally, every state requires that people and companies refrain from harming others by exercising reasonable care in their actions and decisions. The issue of duty becomes more complicated if the plaintiff is arguing that the defendant had a duty to affirmatively do something, rather than refraining from doing something.
A defendant breaches their duty when they fail to act as a reasonably prudent person would under the circumstances.
For causation, a plaintiff must show that the defendant was both the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Actual cause means that the injury would not have happened but-for the defendant’s conduct. In an alternate reality where the defendant had acted reasonably under the circumstances, the plaintiff would not have been harmed. Proximate or legal cause generally means that the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff’s injury.
Establishing the injury element of a negligence claim requires proving that the plaintiff suffered an injury that is legally recoverable. In some jurisdictions, emotional distress may not be a legally recoverable injury in a negligence lawsuit.
If you’ve hired a personal injury attorney, he or she can help you navigate the legal elements needed to prove your negligence claim.
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