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What Are the Elements of Negligence?

Negligence is a legal concept that forms the basis of many personal injury lawsuits. To prevail in a negligence claim, a plaintiff (the injured party) must prove that the defendant (the party responsible for the harm) acted unreasonably, causing harm to the plaintiff. This seemingly simple concept hinges on establishing four specific elements: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages.

The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff to establish each of these elements by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it is more likely than not that the defendant's negligence caused harm. Below, we discuss each of the four elements of negligence in further detail.

1. Duty of Care

The first element necessitates that the plaintiff proves the defendant had a legal obligation to act with reasonable care to prevent harm. This duty stems from the relationship between the parties involved.

For instance, drivers are obligated to drive safely to protect other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Similarly, property owners must keep their homes or businesses reasonably safe for visitors. To establish this element, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant was part of a group of individuals who could foreseeably cause harm to the plaintiff through unreasonable actions.

2. Breach of Duty

After establishing a duty of care, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant breached this duty by not acting as a reasonable person would in similar circumstances. This requires an assessment of the defendant's actions against a standard of reasonableness.

The standard of care is not always the same. In some situations, a higher degree of care is expected. For instance, doctors are held to a higher standard of care compared to the average person.

To prove a breach of duty, the plaintiff can present evidence of the defendant's actions or inactions, safety codes or standards that were violated, or expert testimony on what a reasonable person would have done.

3. Causation

The next element requires the plaintiff to establish that the defendant's breach of duty actually caused their harm. This has two parts:

  • Cause-in-fact. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant's actions or omissions were a substantial factor in bringing about their injury.
  • Proximate cause. The cause of the harm must not be too remote or indirect. The law considers the foreseeability of the harm and the defendant's role in the chain of events.

For example, if a driver runs a red light and causes a collision, but the plaintiff suffers a more severe injury due to a pre-existing medical condition, the driver's breach of duty may only be considered a cause-in-fact, not the proximate cause, of the worsened injury.

4. Damages

The final element requires the plaintiff to prove they suffered actual harm as a result of the defendant's negligence. Damages can be economic (medical bills, lost wages) or non-economic (pain and suffering, emotional distress).

Get Help Establishing Negligence

Understanding these elements is crucial for anyone considering filing a negligence lawsuit. Consulting with an attorney can help determine if your situation meets these criteria and guide you through the legal process.

The attorneys at Pierce, Sloan, Kennedy & Early LLC are committed to helping our clients feel confident in pursuing their claims. If you or a loved one have been injured in a negligence-related accident, we are here and equipped to help you develop creative strategies to achieve your case goals.

To speak with a member of our team about your case, call (843) 968-0886 to schedule a case consultation.