When another party injures you, you can claim compensation for your injuries, economic losses, pain, and other damages. Many personal injury cases are based on the legal theory of negligence. If you cannot prove all the elements of a negligence claim, the party cannot be held financially liable for your damages.
What Is Negligence?
Negligence is the failure to act with reasonable care. Reasonable care is generally judged by how a person with ordinary prudence would have acted in the same or similar circumstances.
In many cases, negligence claims involve how someone acted, but claims may also involve omissions when there is a duty to act.
Examples of negligence might include:
- A driver traveling at high speeds through a school zone
- Someone operating a vehicle after consuming large amounts of alcohol
- Failure to have enough life-jackets on a boat for the number of passengers
- A construction company failing to place barriers around the site
- A dog owner allowing his pet to roam the neighborhood
- A medical provider failing to perform required diagnostic tests
- Nursing homes failing to conduct background checks on employees
- A manufacturer failing to disclose a potential hazard if a product is used in a specific manner
Proving that a party is at fault for your damages requires that you prove all four elements of a negligence claim. Each element links together to create a chain of causation from the at-fault party to your damages.
What Are the Elements of a Negligence Claim?
The legal elements of a negligence claim are very specific. The person pursuing the claim has the burden of providing evidence that proves each of the elements.
Duty of Care
You cannot hold someone responsible for your injuries unless that person owed you a duty of care. A duty of care is an obligation to act with a reasonable level of good sense and caution. In most cases, the duty of care is based on what a prudent person would have done in the same or similar situation.
An example of duty of care is the requirement to exercise care when driving to avoid causing accidents. A driver is under a duty of care to obey traffic laws and operate the vehicle in a manner that does not place other individuals on the road in danger of harm or injury.
Breach of Duty of Care
The second element of a negligence claim requires that you prove the other party breached the duty of care. Breaching the duty of care is failing to act with reasonable care.
For drivers, examples of breaching the duty of care might include driving while distracted, improper lane changes, and running red lights. Any failure to obey traffic laws could be considered a breach of the duty of care.
It is not enough to prove that the party owed you a duty of care and then breached the duty of care. You have only established that the party was legally responsible for any consequences of their actions.
To prove liability, you must link the party’s breach of care to the accident or incident that caused you to sustain an injury or harm. That element is referred to as causation.
For example, a driver who runs a red light breached the duty of care. However, did running the red light cause you harm?
First, you must show that running the red caused the crash. You had the right of way to be in the intersection. Had the driver not run the red light, the collision would not have occurred. Because of the collision, you sustained a spinal cord injury.
Before the crash, you were in good health and had no condition that would have been related to a spinal cord injury. Your doctors can testify that you were in good health before the crash. Therefore, the crash resulted in your injury and current condition.
The final element of a negligence claim is damages. Even though you prove that the other driver caused the crash that resulted in your injuries, you must prove that you suffered damages because of your injuries.
Damages in a personal injury claim may include economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are the financial losses caused by the accident, such as medical bills or loss of income.
Non-economic damages include the pain and suffering experienced because of the injury. It also includes permanent impairments, scarring, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental anguish.
How Do You Value Damages in a Personal Injury Claim?
Once you establish all elements of a negligence claim, you must prove how much your damages are worth. Economic damages equal the total financial loss for each type of damage.
However, non-economic damages or “pain and suffering” damages are more difficult to value. There is no standard formula for placing a value on someone’s pain and suffering.
Personal injury lawyers understand how insurance companies and juries generally calculate values for pain and suffering damages. They calculate the maximum value for your damages based on the facts and circumstances of your case. The lawyer uses the evidence gathered during the investigation to build a strong case for full compensation of all damages.