Negligence is when someone fails to carry out certain standards of conduct. For example, an individual does not carry out an act which a reasonably careful person would or does something which a reasonably careful person would not do, causing harm or loss to another individual.
When a person violates these standards, the law requires the person to compensate the person to who they caused harm or loss.
Four elements required to prove negligence
There are four key elements in proving negligence. An “element” is a necessary component of a legal claim. The plaintiff must prove the following to prove negligence:
- Duty of care
- Breach of duty
If you fail to establish the four elements of negligence, you will not be successful in securing compensation for your injuries.
Duty of care
The first element of determining negligence is whether or not the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty of care.
There are situations where a legal duty is created in the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant. A duty of care arises when the law recognizes a relationship between two parties, and due to this relationship, one party has an obligation to exercise the same level of reasonable care that another person in a similar situation would exercise.
All drivers are expected to maintain their vehicle in safe conditions and operate their vehicle safely and in accordance with all traffic laws
Business owners have a duty to take reasonable care to ensure their premises are safe for their customers and employees. This can include regularly inspecting their property for hazardous conditions and fix it within a reasonable timeframe.
Breach of duty
The next element is for the court to determine if the defendant breached this duty by doing or not doing something that an average person would do if they were in a similar circumstance.
A jury might likely find a defendant negligent if an average person:
- Knew everything the defendant knew at the time; and
- Would have known his/her actions might cause an injury to someone else; and
- Would have done something different from what the defendant did in that situation.
Below are two examples in which a breach of duty has occurred:
- A company vehicle does not allow enough stopping distance when approaching an intersection and strikes another vehicle that was stopped at a red light.
- A dog owner who knows their dog is very aggressive towards children brings the dog to a tee-ball game, and the dog viciously bites the child.
Causation (cause in fact)
The third element of negligence is causation. Causation requires a plaintiff to show that the defendant’s breach of duty was the cause of the plaintiff’s injury and losses.
Another thing to consider is whether the defendant could have foreseen that his or her actions might cause an injury. If the action caused the plaintiff injury through an unexpected act of nature, then it would be deemed unforeseeable, most likely making the defendant to be found not liable.
Some examples where cause in fact exists are:
- The supervisor of a grocery store sees an employee drop grapes in the produce aisle. Neither the supervisor nor any other employee clean up the grapes promptly and an elderly customer steps and slips on the grapes, breaking her hip. A broken hip is reasonably related to their breach of the duty of the care because if the store employees had picked up the grapes, the customer would not have slipped and fallen on the floor.
- A driver doesn’t stop at a crosswalk and strikes a pedestrian in a parking lot, causing the pedestrian to suffer a broken leg and severe bruising. The pedestrian would not have been harmed if the driver did not strike him. The driver’s failure to exercise reasonable care while driving in the parking lot is reasonably related to the victim’s injuries.
A proximate cause is an event related to an injury that the courts feel to be the cause of said injury. It is an action that produced foreseeable consequences without intervention from anyone else. Proximate cause is also known as a legal cause.
An example of proximate cause is:
An ambulance flips over on the way to the hospital after aiding individuals in a different car wreck. There is no proximate cause tied to the car wreck that the emergency services were called to initially. A party is not liable for harm sustained resulting from actions taken as a result of initial causation.
Damages are the final element of negligence. Because the plaintiff suffered injury or loss which a reasonable person in that same situation could expect or foresee, monetary compensation may be the only form of relief for those injuries. Damages include medical care, lost wages, emotional turmoil and more.
For example, if:
The manager of a sports equipment store displays heavy medicine balls on a flimsy top shelf. The shelf collapses and the balls start tumbling down rapidly striking a customer on the head and causing him to suffer a concussion. The customer has to miss several weeks of work and receives a pricey hospital bill. Monetary compensation will compensate the customer for his injury, lost wages, and medical expenses.