What is Negligence?

People make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes result in accidents. If the person failed to act with a reasonable level of care, the legal term for their conduct is negligence. 

If you are injured because of another person’s negligence, you may file a personal injury claim seeking compensation for your injuries and damages. However, you have the burden of proving the legal elements of negligence. If you cannot prove your case, you cannot recover compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and other damages. 

Most personal injury cases are based on allegations of negligence. The injured party is the plaintiff, and the defendant is the party who allegedly injured the plaintiff. 

The plaintiff must prove each of the following four legal elements to win a negligence case:

  • Duty of care
  • Breach of duty
  • Causation 
  • Damages 

Tort law is very clear about proving these elements. You must prove all four elements. Otherwise, the defendant is not negligent or liable for your damages. 

What is a Duty of Care?

There must be evidence showing that the defendant owed you a duty of care. Duties typically arise from law, custom, or relationships. A duty is the requirement to act with a reasonable standard of care to avoid injuring another person or placing them at risk of harm.

For example, a doctor owes a duty of care to their patients. Property owners owe a duty of care to visitors and guests. Motorists have a duty of care to other people using the roads.

The duty of care requires that you act with the same level of care that a reasonable person of ordinary prudence would use. A “reasonable person” is a hypothetical person to demonstrate the acceptable standard of care in a given situation. Juries decide what the reasonable person standard is on a case-by-case basis.

How Does the Defendant Breach the Duty of Care?

The defendant breached the duty of care if their conduct fell short of the reasonable person standard. For example, suppose a driver runs a red light and crashes into another vehicle. 

A reasonably prudent person would stop at the red light to prevent causing a car wreck. A reasonable person would obey traffic laws. Therefore, the breach of duty was the failure to stop for a red light. 

The defendant’s action may be illegal, but that is not necessary to prove negligence. All you must prove for this element is that the defendant acted unreasonably compared to a reasonable person’s conduct.

What is Causation?

It is not enough to show that the defendant breached their duty of care. You must show that the defendant’s breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of your injury. 

In other words, you must show you would not have been injured but for the defendant’s conduct. Also, you must demonstrate that your injuries were a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s actions. Causation can be one of the most challenging elements to prove.

What Are Damages in a Negligence Claim?

Damages are the adverse consequences you experience because of the breach of the duty of care. Physical injuries are considered damages. However, financial and emotional consequences are also damages in a negligence case.

Damages could include, but are not limited to:

  • Death 
  • Bodily injury
  • Economic loss, such as lost wages, medical bills, and other out-of-pocket expenses
  • Property damage
  • Emotional distress and mental anguish 

You must have sufficient evidence to prove that you sustained losses. For example, it is not enough to say that you lost $10,000 in income. You must prove that you lost the money through pay stubs or other documentation/testimony to recover the money from a personal injury case. 

In some cases, the defendant’s conduct rises to the level of gross negligence or willful, wanton conduct. If a defendant’s conduct meets the legal requirements, the defendant may be ordered to pay punitive damages. Punitive damages “punish” the defendant for acts that exceed the level of ordinary negligence. 

Establishing Liability for Damages

If you prove each element of a negligence claim, you have shown the defendant was negligent. The at-fault party must compensate you for damages. In many cases, it is the liability insurance company that pays the claim.

However, if you share liability for your injury, the court can reduce your compensation for your percentage of fault. Therefore, if you are 40 percent responsible for causing the accident, the most you can receive for your claim is 60 percent of the total value of damages. The legal standard used in Kentucky is pure comparative negligence

Schedule a Free Consultation With Our Lexington Personal Injury Lawyer

If you were injured because of another person’s negligence, we want to help. Contact our law office to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Lexington personal injury attorney.