When you bring a personal injury lawsuit against someone, you must prove that the other party was liable for your injuries. Most of these matters are based on the legal theory of negligence.
The theory of negligence consists of four elements:
- Duty of care,
- Breach of duty,
- Causation, and
The elements appear straightforward, but when arguing your case and attempting to prove the other person was at fault, things can get complicated.
What Is Negligence?
Essentially, negligence is associated with the level of care someone uses in certain situations. Under most circumstances, people are expected to act in a way that, if they are doing something that could foreseeably hurt another person, avoids harm happening to others.
When someone’s actions fall below the expected standard, they could have been negligent. They could then be held responsible for damages they caused the injured party.
So how do you demonstrate that someone was negligent? You must prove the four elements of this legal theory.
Duty of Care
The first element of negligence is the duty of care. Arguably, this is the most essential factor in a personal injury case. Without someone owing another person a duty of care, they cannot be liable for resulting damages.
Duty of care refers to the standard a person must hold themselves to when performing or not performing certain acts. The standard can be based on the relationships between individuals. For instance, in a doctor-patient relationship, the doctor is expected to provide medical care to the patient at a degree any skilled professional in the field would. The standard can also be based on situations. For example, store owners are expected to keep their premises clear of hazardous conditions.
In various situations, people must exercise reasonable care. In other words, they should act in a way a reasonable person would under similar circumstances.
Breach of Duty of Care
After establishing that the responsible party owed you a duty of care, you must prove that they breached that duty. To do this, you must answer whether a similarly situated and reasonable person would have acted or not acted in the same manner as the defendant in your case. Additionally, would a reasonable person have foreseen that their actions or inactions would have resulted in harm and not have engaged in the behavior?
Let’s return to the store owner’s duty for an example. Say the owner was aware of a crack in one of the aisle floors. The fissure created an imbalance in the floor levels that could cause someone to trip. The store owner, aware of the danger, fails to repair the crack or even set up caution signs to warn customers to stay away. Did they breach their duty of care? Most likely. A prudent store owner would have either fixed the damaged floor or notified customers to avoid potential injury to others. The example may be a premises liability matter.
Once you can show that the responsible party owed you a duty of care and breached that duty, your next step is proving that their actions or inactions caused you harm. Anyone can act below the standard level of care in a specific situation, but that does not necessarily mean that their behavior was directly related to your injuries.
Generally, when showing causation, you must demonstrate that, absent the at-fault party’s conduct, you wouldn’t have been hurt. To illustrate, suppose you had gone to the store mentioned in the previous examples. You tripped and fell because of the crack in the floor. If the owner had taken action and addressed the hazardous condition, would you still have fallen? Probably not. Therefore, a connection exists between your accident and the store owner’s negligence.
For an insurance company or court to award compensation in your personal injury case, you must have sustained damages. Damages are losses or expenses arising because of your injury.
They can include things such as:
- Medical bills,
- Lost wages, and
If you can’t prove that you suffered damages, you wouldn’t be entitled to financial recovery.
Speak with a Kansas City Personal Injury Attorney About Your Case
Proving the elements of negligence requires gathering evidence and telling a story supporting your arguments. When you’re recovering from an accident, this part of the process can be overwhelming and complex. Our team at Bertram & Graf, L.L.C. can help every step of the way.
Schedule a free consultation by calling us at (888) 398-2277 or submitting an online contact form.