Personal Injury: Proving Negligence is Key to Winning a Personal Injury Lawsuit

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Personal Injury Negligence Injury Law

Personal Injury: Proving Negligence is Key to Winning a Personal Injury Lawsuit

Negligence is carelessness that causes personal injury to someone else. It can be an action, like carelessly knocking a brick off a rooftop, or a failure to act, like a landlord who doesn’t repair a broken stair. Negligence often forms the basis for personal injury lawsuits.
To support a legal claim for negligence, the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) must show four things: That the defendant (the person or entity being sued) owed the plaintiff a duty of care; that the defendant failed to exercise due care towards the plaintiff (i.e. breached the duty); that the defendant’s breach of duty caused the plaintiff’s injury; and that the plaintiff suffered damages as a result.
Duty of Care: The plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty of care toward the plaintiff. A person has a duty to avoid causing injury to another if a reasonable person in the same situation could foresee that an action (or failure to act) might cause injury. Some cases are very clear. We all know that someone might be harmed if we run a red light, so we have a duty of care to follow traffic laws and signals. Other cases are more difficult. If a homeowner has a private swimming pool in a fenced yard, does he have a duty to prevent a neighbor child from climbing the fence and accidentally drowning in the pool? How much care would a reasonable person take in that situation? In each case, the circumstances surrounding the injury play an important role in determining whether or not a defendant had a duty of care towards the plaintiff.
Breach of Duty: The plaintiff must show that the defendants failed to carry out their duty of care. For example, a normal person could foresee that a van full of explosives might blow up, so a person who parks such a van in a crowded mall parking lot has breached the duty of care to the other people in the mall. If the van explodes, the driver will be guilty of negligence. A person could also foresee that a car that isn’t repaired properly might malfunction, so if the brakes on a poorly maintained car fail and the car hits a child, the owner of the car has breached the duty of care to that child. Every car owner has a duty to maintain the car in a safe condition. On the other hand, if the owner regularly maintains and repairs the car and the brakes failed because the brakes were faulty or the mechanic made a mistake, the owner did not breach a duty of care, though the brake manufacturer or the mechanic might be responsible.
Cause: The plaintiff must show that the defendant’s breach of duty caused the injury for which the plaintiff is suing. Sometimes causation is clear. If you run a red light and hit a pedestrian, you clearly caused the injury. If the pedestrian’s elderly mother has a heart attack and dies when she hears of her daughter’s injury, did you cause that injury? Probably not, but those are the kinds of issues that have to be resolved in a negligence lawsuit. There may also be questions about what injury was caused by an accident. People often have more than one accident in their lives, so if someone has had two prior back injuries, what injury to the back was caused by the most recent fall down a flight of stairs?
Damages: Damages in a negligence lawsuit try to put the plaintiff in the same position he or she would be in if the accident hadn’t happened. A plaintiff must show the monetary value of his or her injuries. For example, if a person is disabled and can no longer work, a calculation of damages would consider the occupation of the plaintiff and the amount he or she would have earned during the time left in a normal working career. Damages would also include medical costs and estimated costs for medical care, special accommodations, and assisted living.
In some situations defendants are liable for negligence because of the operation of law, and not because they directly caused an injury. For example, since an employer is held responsible for injuries caused by employees during work, FedEx may be liable if a FedEx driver has an accident while making deliveries. A hospital might be held liable for injury caused by only one nurse. Plaintiffs often make claims against several defendants to make sure there will be enough assets (money) to pay a judgment. FreeAdvice provides Personal Injury FAQs which provide further information, but if you think you have an injury based on someone else’s negligence, you should contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. This is because every state has a statute of limitations, or time period limiting when you can file a case. If you’d like your case to be evaluated by an experienced lawyer at no cost or further obligation, fill out FreeAdvice’s case evaluation form.

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