How to Establish Negligence in A Personal Injury Matter
If you happen to be an unfortunate victim of a personal injury matter, there are four elements that are required to establish a prima facie case of negligence. There four elements are:
- The existent of a legal duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff
- The defendant breach the duty owed
- The plaintiff suffered an actual injury
- The defendant’s breach of duty caused the injury
In a car accident, a defendant driver owes the duty of care to a plaintiff, which is the legal duty to act reasonably so as to avoid injuring other people. A reasonable driver would have maintained a safe distance, stopped in time to avoid a collision, controlled their speed, maintained a proper lookout, and properly maintained, steered and controlled their vehicle in a manner so as to avoid colliding with the plaintiff. When a driver fails to meet this duty — for example when they rear end someone — they are found to have breached this duty of care for failure to act as a reasonable driver and to avoid acting in a way that may cause injury to others on the road.
Once it is established that the defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff, it is necessary to establish that the plaintiff suffered an actual injury. This refers to the physical and emotional injuries, property damage, loss of income, and loss of future earnings as a result of the accident. This is done through medical records and expert testimony. For example, if the plaintiff has a broken leg as a result of this accident, this satisfies the third element of negligence.
The final element to be proven is that the breach of the defendant’s duty caused the injury. This is called “proximate cause,” which establishes that the plaintiff would not have been injured had the defendant not been negligent, and no other intervening acts contributed to the injury.
A defendant may sometimes argue that negligence was not the cause, or not the sole cause, of the accident. For example, the defendant may argue that the plaintiff contributed to the accident. This is a very important determination, especially in states where there are contributory negligence laws. Under these guidelines, if an injured party is found at all responsible, they are not entitled to any compensation, even if the plaintiff is merely 1% at fault. In comparative negligence jurisdictions, a defendant may use this defense to reduce the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover, based upon the degree to which the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to cause the injury. For example, if a plaintiff is 10% at fault for this accident described above, they will only be able to recover 90% of the damages established.