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What Does “Negligence” Mean?

Car Accident Lawyer

If you have been injured as a result of someone else’s actions, you may be able to hold the responsible party liable for your injuries and losses. But in order to succeed, you will need to prove negligence on the part of the defendant.

Negligence can be defined as the failure to act as a reasonable person would in the same circumstances and is made up of four different elements:

  1.     Duty – The defendant must have owed you a reasonable duty of care
  2.     Breach – The defendant must have breached that duty, by failing to exercise due care
  3.     Causation – The defendant’s breach of duty must have been the actual or proximate cause of your injuries
  4. Damages – You must have suffered actual harm to your person or property

Duty and Breach

In a personal injury case, the duty and breach elements combined are what make the defendant’s conduct wrongful. Under the duty element, you must show that the defendant had an obligation of reasonable care to avoid injuring you or damaging your property.

To determine if a duty existed, courts will often ask if the accident or injury was foreseeable. For example, most would agree that failing to stop at stop sign could foreseeably result in an injury to a motorist or pedestrian who was passing through the intersection where the stop sign was located.

To determine if the defendant breached his or her duty of reasonable care, a court will compare the defendant to a reasonable person. If the defendant’s level of care went below the level of care that we would expect from a reasonable person, we would say that the defendant breached his or her duty of care.

Again, most people would agree that a reasonable person would stop at a stop sign to check for cars and pedestrian crossing the intersection before driving through. If a defendant did not stop and, as a result, someone was injured, the breach element will have been met.

Reasonableness and Foreseeability

Whether the defendant’s conduct was unreasonable, and thus amounts to a breach of his or her duty to you, depends partly on whether or not he or she should have been able to foresee that harm would occur to you as a result of his or her act or omission.

So, the test for foreseeability asks the question, “would a reasonable person have been able to foresee harm being caused?” In many personal injury cases, a jury must decide if the defendant’s actions were unreasonable and if the harm should have been foreseen, based on all of the factors involved in the case.

Causation

There are two types of causation that must be established in a personal injury case.

  1. The actual cause; and
  2. The proximate or legal cause.

First, to determine if the defendant’s breach of duty was the actual cause of your injury, the court will ask, “if the defendant had done something different, would the accident have happened?”

If the accident would not have happened if the defendant had done something thing differently, the defendant’s actions are said to be the actual cause of your injury. For example, if you would not have been injured in a car accident if the other driver had not been speeding, then the other driver’s speeding is the actual cause of your injury.

Secondly, the court will ask if there was a close and direct relationship between the defendant’s conduct and your injury? If there was a close and direct relationship, between the defendant’s actions and your injury, the defendant’s conduct will be said to have been the proximate cause of your injury. In other words, the defendant’s behavior was the thing that set in motion the events that ultimately caused you to be harmed.

Damages

To succeed in personal injury lawsuit, you must also show actual harm (damages) in the form of physical or emotional injury or economic losses. This can include property damage, bodily injuries, emotional distress, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, lost wages, lost earning capacity, and anything that you’ve lost when you compare your life before and after the defendant’s negligent act.

Vicarious Liability

Generally, liability for a personal injury only lies with the person who actually caused you harm. However, under certain circumstances, you may hold others liable as well. For instance, under the theory of vicarious liability, if an employee injures you while performing a task within the scope of his employment, his or her employer can also be held responsible.

Defenses to Negligence

In a personal injury lawsuit, there are two affirmative defenses that the defendant can claim to escape or reduce his or her liability for your injuries and losses:

  1. Assumption of risk – this involves the defendant alleging that you knew of the risk of being injured, but freely consented to his or her conduct at your own risk and, therefore, the defendant should not be liable for your damages.
  2. Contributory negligence or comparative negligence – This is based on the fact that your own negligence contributed to your injuries, and thus, your recovery of damages should be reduced by your own percentage of fault or barred altogether.

Also, bear in mind that it is your duty to prove your case, and not the obligation of the defendant to disprove it. In other words, in a typical personal injury case, you will have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is liable for the accident and the medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages that you have suffered from the time of the accident to the trial.

Furthermore, if you wish to be awarded damages for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, or other damages that you will suffer in the future, you will have to prove that it is reasonably certain that you will suffer those damages as well.

Consult With An Experienced Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been injured due to someone else’s negligence, call a personal injury law firm in Atlanta, GA today to arrange a consultation. They will assess the circumstances of your case to determine if they warrant filing a personal injury claim and assist you in establishing liability for your injuries and losses.

 


 

Thanks to the Butler Law Firm for their insight into personal injury claims and the meaning of negligence.