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Negligence in Personal Injury Lawsuits


Negligence is a crucial concept in personal injury cases. The law of negligence essentially requires people to behave in a manner that conforms to certain standards of conduct. When an individual's actions (or lack of it) violate those standards, the law requires the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for his or her injuries and losses.

In tort law, negligence is a distinct cause of action. Tort law defines negligence as "conduct that falls below the standard established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm."


In order to successfully bring a negligence lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that the following elements are present:


The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed him or her a duty of care. This means the defendant should have had a duty to exercise care and caution toward the plaintiff. For example, drivers have a duty of care to operate their vehicles safely while following the rules of the road. If a driver causes an auto accident by violating the rules of the road such as making an unsafe turn, running a stop sign or a red light or failing to yield the right of way to a pedestrian, then the defendant (the driver) could be viewed as negligent.


When a person violates his or her duty of care, that is known as a "breach" or violation of duty. For example, when a doctor fails to exercise proper care with a patient and misdiagnoses a patient, that can be deemed a breach of duty because a medical professional has a duty to patients to provide quality care.


There must be an actual causal connection between the defendant's negligent conduct that the harm that occurs to the plaintiff as a result. The harm or injury should have resulted as the result of the defendant's actions or lack of it. For example, when a person trips on a broken stair, the property owner and/or manager could be deemed negligent because their failure to repair the broken step caused the plaintiff's injuries.


Finally, in order to seek monetary compensation, the negligence should have resulted in damages for the plaintiff. This can be demonstrated by showing evidence of medical expenses, lost wages, cost of hospitalization, money spent for rehabilitative treatment or continuing medical care, etc.


Negligence refers to the act or failure to act in a manner that causes injury or harm to another person. What separates a common accident from an act of negligence is the "standard of care" required in any given situation. If it is determined that the defendant neglected the proper standard of care for a given situation, he or she may be found liable for any resulting injury or harm.

The "reasonable person" mentioned in the law of negligence is not necessarily an "ideal" person who is careful and exercises due care all the time. Rather, the law looks at how a typical person with ordinary prudence would act under certain circumstances. Therefore, even someone with a low intelligence quotient (IQ) or is chronically absent-minded or careless is held to the same standards as a more careful person or someone of a higher intelligence.

When such a case goes before the jury, jurors will simply look at whether the defendant has acted reasonably under the circumstances. When jurors make a decision, they are likely to take into account the defendant's behavior in light of what the defendant knows, or has experienced or perceived. For example, in a trip-and-fall case, the jury might consider whether a property owner or manager knew or should have reasonably known that there was a dangerous condition on the property that could lead to a trip-and-fall accident.

When it comes to children, the law does not expect them to act as a reasonable adult would act. Instead, the courts hold children to a modified standard. So, in cases involving children, a child's actions are compared with the conduct of other children of the same age, experience and intelligence.


Usually, a negligence case is proven with direct evidence or circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is that which is derived from the personal knowledge of a witness or from images in a video or a photograph. Circumstantial evidence is that which requires a fact-finder to draw an inference based on evidence that has been produced. 

Negligence is proven in different ways depending on the nature and circumstances of the personal injury cases. For example, in a dog bite case, the severity of the victim's injuries might play a significant part as can the dog owner's negligence or carelessness in allowing their dog to roam about without a leash. In a slip-and-fall case, the plaintiff must prove that the dangerous condition existed for a length of time and the defendant had a responsibility to remedy the hazardous condition.

There are of course situations when there is not much direct evidence to prove negligence. In these situations the plaintiff may rely on the jury to infer, based on the facts of the case, that there was negligence. The plaintiff must prove that the incident that caused injury or harm usually does not happen in the absence of negligence and that the defendant had exclusive control of the instrument that caused the injury. 


If you or a loved one has been injured due to someone else's negligence or wrongdoing, it is important to secure prompt medical attention, care and treatment. File a report that documents the date, time and location of the incident and obtain a copy of this report for your own records. Collect as much evidence as possible from the scene of the incident. If you can obtain a surveillance video that shows the incident occurring and what caused it, that could provide you with strong evidence for your case.

Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in Orange County who can help you compile the evidence you need and fight to help you secure maximum compensation for your injuries damages and losses.


Timothy J. Ryan & Associates

Call (714) 898-4444 or fill out our contact form to obtain a free, no-obligation consultation from personal injury attorney Timothy J. Ryan. Tim has helped California injury victims obtain more than $1 Billion in compensation since 1981. Get the help you need today.