Wrongful Death Lawyer
Negligence occurs where a person fails to exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the same circumstances. Negligence can consist of an act or an omission. A plaintiff suing for negligence must prove four elements: duty of care, breach of that duty, damages, and causation.
Duty of Care
The plaintiff in a negligence action must prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care. Some situations in which a defendant owes a duty of care include where the defendant created the risk which caused the plaintiff harm, where the defendant voluntarily undertook to protect the plaintiff from the harm they suffered, and where the defendant knew or should have known that his conduct could harm the plaintiff. Additionally, there are several types of special relationships that confer a duty of care on a defendant, including business owner and customer, innkeeper and guest, doctor and patient, and landowner and land user.
The plaintiff in a negligence action must also prove that the defendant breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff. A defendant breaches a duty of care when they fail to do something that a reasonably prudent person would do in the circumstances or do something that a reasonably prudent person would not do. Courts often use a formula to determine whether the defendant breached a duty of care. The formula posits that if the burden of taking precautions against the risk of harm is less than the probability of harm multiplied by the gravity of any possible harm, then the defendant will be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.
A plaintiff suing for negligence must next prove that they have suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s breach of the duty of care. The plaintiff’s damages typically must be physical injury or harm to property. Strictly economic loss will not meet the damages element of a negligence claim. Occasionally, emotional distress will be enough to establish damages even where no physical injury accompanies the emotional distress. The damages element also requires that the court is able to compensate the plaintiff for their injury, which usually comes in the form of monetary compensation for medical expenses or repairing property.
The plaintiff must finally establish that the defendant’s breach was the cause of the harm the plaintiff suffered. Causation is divided into actual cause and proximate cause. Actual cause, also known as “cause in fact,” is relatively straightforward and refers to the fact that the defendant must have been the actual cause of the plaintiff’s injury. For instance, when a driver runs a red light and hits another person’s car, the driver is the actual cause of any injuries suffered by the other person.
Proximate cause is often referred to as “legal cause” and denotes the cause that the law recognizes as the primary cause of the plaintiff’s injury. For the defendant’s act to be the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury, it must be reasonably foreseeable that the act could lead to the injury. The defendant’s conduct is the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury if the injury was a natural and foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s conduct.