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Duty, Breach, Injury, and Proximate Cause Create Negligence


PErsonal Injury Lawyers

What are the Elements of a Negligence Claim?

If you are seeking damages after an accident, you are most likely asserting that someone else’s negligence caused the accident and your injuries. Different accidents have different standards of negligence: a car crash has a different standard than a slip and fall. However, all negligence claims arise from same common law elements.

A common law cause of action is not defined by a statute or written law. Common law arises from the opinions of appellate courts over time. In the United States, the notion of negligence and its elements is based on centuries of negligence claims in both England and the United States. The elements of a common law negligence are the same in almost every case, and they always follow the pattern laid out below.

Common Law Negligence

1. Duty

The defendant must owe a duty of care to the plaintiff. For example, all drivers owe a duty of care to the other people using the roadway. The defendant in a car accident case had a duty to keep a proper lookout for the plaintiff. People who were not currently driving do not owe the same duty of care to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff attempts to sue a pedestrian bystander for the negligence involving the accident, he or she would lose because that bystander did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care.

The most common, common law, duty of care is reasonableness. The defendant in the accident case was expected to act the same way a reasonably prudent person would have acted in the same circumstances. If that definition seems vague. It is. That is why the law has defined different duties for different situations. To learn more about these duties click here.

2. Breach

The plaintiff must show that the defendant breached the duty of care. For example, the plaintiff is going to have to show that defendant failed to keep a proper lookout when he rear-ended the plaintiff. If there is no accident, there is no breach.

3. Injury

In order to recover damages for an accident, the plaintiff will have to prove that she was injured in the accident. Usually, this is done by providing documentation of property damages and bodily injuries. If there was no injury, there is nothing to sue over.

The common law does not recognize a tort, “for the principle of the thing.” The common law demands that a defendant make you as close to whole, or the way you were before the accident, as possible. If your situation has not changed, the defendant does not owe you anything.

4. Proximate Cause

The plaintiff has a duty to prove that defendant’s breach caused the injury. The seems simple until it isn’t. If the plaintiff is driving along the highway in perfect health when she is rear-ended by the defendant, and she has bruises and broken bones after the accident, it is easy to deduce that the accident caused the injuries.

This is where it gets complicated. Assume plaintiff has an athletic injury on her leg that she has not presented to a medical professional. After she is rear-ended by defendant she feels fine. A couple of days later, plaintiff begins to feel pain in her legs. A trip to the doctor reveals fractured bones. The question is now, did the car accident cause the broken bones or were bones broken before.

In this instance, plaintiff would have to show that she only had shin splints before the accident that could not have turned into a fracture without the car accident.