Negligence sounds like a simple word. People use it every day. It means carelessness. It means someone was not paying attention. However, according to research in the Legal Finance Journal, this simple word forms the basis of tens of thousands of lawsuits every year. This is because negligence is also a legal standard. When a person is harmed by another in a traffic accident or other type of personal injury accident, he or she needs to prove that the defendant was negligent in a legal sense in order to receive compensation for his or her injuries. Since this word is so important in the legal world, judges have laid out a clear definition of what it means to be negligent, and understanding this definition can often help victims participate in their own case.
The Elements of Negligence
To prove that a person was negligent, the plaintiff has to show four elements. These elements are often abbreviated as duty, breach, cause and harm and are illustrated as the following:
- The defendant must have had a duty to exercise reasonable care. For instance, drivers on the road must be reasonably careful that their actions do not endanger other drivers;
- The defendant must have done something to breach that duty; a driver on the road who was speeding or texting has breached his or her duty by not being careful while he or she drove;
- The breach of duty must cause an an event to happen. On the road, the event is almost always a traffic accident; and
- The accident must harm the plaintiff in some way. In the case of a traffic accident, the plaintiff would have to show that he or she was harmed by the accident.
Fundamentally, proving negligence is about showing that the defendant acted carelessly. In terms of a lawsuit, the most commonly contested portion of negligence are elements two and three, breach and cause. Arguing over the issue of breach is arguing over the level of care that was being exercised. The law does not require that people take absolute care, just reasonable care. Therefore, the defendant may have acted careful enough to not qualify as negligent while still causing an accident in a way that was particularly unlikely.
Fighting over causation, however, is different. A fight over causation involves questioning whether the defendant’s carelessness really resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. The law requires that the harm the person caused be “foreseeable” to the defendant, so an unlikely, attenuated set of circumstances set in motion by the defendant may not be enough to qualify for causation.
If you believe you were injured because of another person’s negligence, reach out to an experienced Green Bay personal injury attorney or Appleton personal injury attorney today. Our lawyers are standing by in Oshkosh, Appleton, and Green Bay to help victims receive the full and fair compensation that they deserve.