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Proving the Elements of Negligence in a Personal Injury Case

Posted by Timothy J. Ryan | May 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

driver being negligent while driving

In personal injury cases, negligence is a key factor. Often, in these types of cases, we see that the injury has been caused by the negligence of another individual or entity. Therefore, in order to hold the other party accountable and financially responsible, negligence must be proved by the plaintiff.

What is Negligence?

Negligence is essentially carelessness. It could be either an action or a failure to act in a manner in which any other prudent person would act under similar circumstances. For example, when a driver gets behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he or she would be deemed a "negligence driver" because he or she is not exercising due care or taking into account the safety and well being of others. Similarly, a property owner who fails to repair a broken stair on his premises may be deemed negligent because he failed to provide a safe environment for tenants and/or visitors to the property. 

Negligence or carelessness is typically the underlying cause in most types of accidents and forms the basis for personal injury cases. Be it motor vehicle accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, truck accidents or dog attacks, negligence must be successfully proved by the plaintiff in order to secure compensation.

Elements of a Negligence Claim

In order to win a personal injury case where negligence is involved, plaintiffs must prove the following four elements to show that the defendant or defendants acted in a negligent manner: 


When evaluating a negligence claim, the first step is to assess the case to see whether or not the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty of care. In some cases, the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant might create a legal duty of care. For example, when there is a doctor-patient relationship, the doctor owes the patient a legal duty to provide him or her with quality medical care. 

In other circumstances, the defendant may owe the plaintiff a legal duty to act with reasonable care. For example, drivers must exercise their duty of care when driving on the roadway. Therefore, driving while under the influence or while distracted might be viewed as negligent behavior.

Breach of Duty

The next step is to determine whether or not the defendant breached or violated that duty by doing or not doing something that a "reasonable prudent person" would do in a similar scenario. The term "reasonable prudent person" essentially means the manner in which an average person would responsibly behave in a certain circumstance. If the defendant is determined to have known that someone might have been injured or harmed as a result of his or her actions, then he or she could be found negligent. For example, a reasonable person would know that traveling at 100 mph on a public roadway could potentially result in a crash and injure or kill another person. So, when a person speeds on a roadway and causes a major injury crash or fatal accident, he or she might be deemed negligent because he or she breached that duty of care owed to others on the roadway.


The third element requires that the plaintiff show the defendant's negligence caused his or her injury. While someone might be acting negligently or carelessly, the plaintiff will only be able to recover compensation if the defendant's negligence caused his or her injury. For example, in a medical malpractice negligence case, the plaintiff must prove that the doctor or medical professional's mistake or negligence (carelessness) caused the injury or harm suffered by the patient.


The final element of a negligence case is "damages," which requires that the plaintiff must have some damages as a result of the injury or harm caused. For example, the plaintiff must be able to show evidence that he or she suffered monetary and other damages as a result of the defendant's negligence. For example, if the plaintiff was injured by a driver who ran a red light, and the plaintiff suffered monetary damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, hospitalization, rehabilitation, etc. he or she would be able to prove that the defendant's negligence in running the red light caused his or her damages.

What to Do If You've Been Injured

In order to prove these four elements of negligence in a personal injury case, plaintiffs need strong evidence. Here are some steps you can take in order to protect your rights in such cases:

  • Make sure you file a report. If you've been injured in a car accident, it is important that you file a police report. If negligence caused a brain injury or other catastrophic injury, signs of these types of injuries are often noticed and included. Often, such reports, in addition to stating the time, date and place of the incident might also have some commentary about who might have caused the incident. This might prove extremely useful when it comes to establishing negligence and liability.
  • Collect evidence from the scene. Gather as much evidence as possible from the scene of the incident. For example, if you slipped and fell on spilled water in a restaurant, make sure you take photographs of the location with your cell phone. Talk to anyone who may have witnessed the incident and obtain their contact information because they could help corroborate your account. If you are hurt and are unable to gather this type of evidence, ask a friend or family member if they can help you do so.
  • Secure prompt medical care, attention and treatment for your injuries. This will help establish a record for the injuries and type or treatment you received in addition to putting you on the road to recovery. 

Contact an experienced Orange County personal injury lawyer who can help you secure maximum compensation for your damages and losses. It would be in your best interest to not sign or enter into an agreement with insurance companies without consulting with your lawyer. Once you do so, your case may be considered closed and you may not be able to secure any further compensation. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of someone else's negligence or wrongdoing, contact Timothy J. Ryan & Associates at (714) 898-4444 for a free, comprehensive and confidential consultation.


About the Author

Timothy J. Ryan

Personal injury attorney Timothy J. Ryan has helped California injury victims recover more than $1 Billion since 1981. A passionate consumer advocate, Tim is heavily involved in giving back to his local community via donations and volunteer work.


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