More often than not, accident and injury cases entail that the matter of establishing fault that centers around the legal concept of ‘negligence’ and on the four crucial elements of negligence claim.
Upon proving such a claim, the plaintiff becomes eligible for receiving compensation from the defendant (the party responsible for the negligence) and/or their insurance company.
The four elements of negligence on which a lawsuit can be based are as follows:
- Duty of Care: The negligent person’s duty to the plaintiff,
- Breach of Duty: The negligent person violated that duty by not acting as a reasonably cautious person would have under such circumstances,
- Causation: The negligent person acted in a manner that caused harm to the plaintiff,
- Damages: The plaintiff suffered actual and measurable injury.
It is important to note that when negotiating your claim for insurance compensation, you may not have to use any of the above-mentioned four elements. In fact, you might not need to prove fault at all. In cases where the cause of the accident is clear, the only factor left to be determined is the amount of compensation appropriate enough to be granted.
If your personal injury claim is based on negligence, you should be able to prove all the said four legal elements to win your case. Each of them must indicate that the defendant was responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. For newbie attorneys, consulting an experienced personal injury lawyer about these elements before taking on such a case would be a good move.
Proving the Elements of Negligence
If you want to prove negligence, you will have to satisfy the requirements for each of the four elements involved. State laws vary from one region to another and the nature of injuries differs in different cases. However, these factors go a long way in determining how the law perceives these elements.
The interpretation of negligence follows certain general rules, which are as stated herein:
- Duty of Care
The plaintiff should be able to prove that the defendant has a duty of care towards him/her. A person has a duty to avoid inflicting injury upon another if a person in the same situation could anticipate that an action (or inaction) may cause injury.
Many a time, the outcomes of such cases are obvious. Every reasonable person has the basic understanding of how his/her action (or the lack of it) can harm others. For example, in elder care homes, the caregiver has a duty of care towards the elderly inmates; or when driving on the road, we have a duty of care of abide by the traffic signals and laws.
Sometimes, the cases can be complex and raises several difficult questions. For instance, if a homeowner builds a private swimming pool in his fenced yard, does he have a duty of care to prevent neighboring children from climbing the fence and accidentally drowning in the pool? How much care is a reasonable person expected to take in such a situation?
The circumstances under which injuries or deaths are caused are highly instrumental in deciding if a defendant actually had a duty of care towards the plaintiff.
- Breach of Duty
The plaintiff should be able to prove that the defendant did not perform his/her duty of care. If the person who owed the duty fails to live up to it, then his/her actions are termed as ‘negligent’ (careless) by the law.
In other words, the defendant breached the duty of care by either creating or enabling a situation to become riskier than normal. Whether or not the duty of care was fulfilled becomes the deciding factor in most cases.
As in the element of duty of care, determining whether or not a breach has occurred is easy. For example, in an elder nursing home, the duty of care involves looking after the aged inmates. According to Bed Sore FAQ, pressure sores are the most common type of violation encountered in nursing homes by elders. Whether or not the caregiver was really overlooking or abusing his/her responsibilities which led to the elderly person developing pressure sores (or death) may be easy to prove with the help of witnesses and evidence.
If the judge or jury is satisfied with the evidence, they’ll declare that the nursing home/caregiver did, in fact, breach that duty.
Alternatively, in some cases proving breach of duty can be challenging, primarily because several factors come in play when considering the concept of complying with duty. If the caregiver was doing a good job of looking after the elderly person, but the latter still suffered injuries or died due to a technical error caused by a medical equipment/machine, the caregiver did not breach the duty of care. However, the manufacturer of the equipment/machine can be held responsible.
The plaintiff should be able to establish that the breach of duty on the part of the defendant was, in fact, the cause of the injury for which the plaintiff is suing. Proving causation can be simple in cases where it is obvious. If the caregiver at the nursing home provides the wrong medicine to a patient, he/she clearly caused the latter pain and suffering.
Further, cases such as the spouse of the elderly patient suffering a heart attack and dying upon hearing about the elderly person’s suffering can also come under the purview of negligence lawsuits.
Questions may be raised about the kind of injuries/suffering caused in situations of negligence. For those who have also suffered injuries in the past, the plaintiff may be asked about those caused most recently.
In a negligence lawsuit, the plaintiff is put in the same financial position he/she would be if the negligent act wouldn’t have occurred by enabling him/her to recover damages. For this, the plaintiff is required to prove the monetary value of his/her injuries.
For example, if the plaintiff becomes disabled and can no longer work, a calculation of damages will consider the plaintiff’s occupation and the money he/she would have earned during the remainder of his/her career. It will also include the actual and estimated costs for medical care, special accommodations, and assisted living.
Negligence lawsuits can be extremely tricky to deal with. There are direct as well as indirect repercussions of the defendant’s actions to be considered along with the pain caused to the plaintiff. In order to ensure that justice is meted out, it is best to consult to consult a qualified attorney with experience in dealing with negligence cases.