What is Negligence?

Attorney Ryan Zavodnick, Philadelphia Pennsylvania Lawyer

At Zavodnick, Zavodnick & Lasky, LLC know that accidents happen. Why do accidents happen? For all sorts of reasons, but usually because of someone’s carelessness. Failure to exercise an appropriate level of care can be legal negligence

Under Pennsylvania’s personal injury laws, negligence makes up a major factor in whether an injury victim can recover compensation. Are you considering filing a personal injury claim for medical bills, property damage, lost wages, or pain and suffering after an incident like a car accident? 

If so, you will need to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the at-fault party’s negligence caused your injuries.

How Can I Prove Negligence in My Personal Injury Case?

Negligence is when one person’s carelessness causes injury or harm to another person. To succeed on a personal injury claim, an injury victim has to establish four (4) essential “elements” to prove negligence:

  1. Duty
  2. Breach of Duty
  3. Causation
  4. Damages

To help explain how these four elements form the foundation of a personal injury case, consider this example of a car accident. 

Driver “A” is stopped at a red light. Driver “B” is approaching the red light in the lane behind Driver “A,” but Driver “B” is texting and driving.

Driver “B” is looking down at their phone when they rear-end Driver “A.”

Driver “A” does what a driver is supposed to do after a car accident and goes to the emergency room for evaluation. Driver “A” misses a day of work and is diagnosed with a herniated disc between their C5 and C6 vertebrae. A herniated disc between the C5 and C6 vertebrae is a common injury in rear-end collisions.

Now, let’s look at how the four (4) elements of negligence apply to this example situation. The injury victim, Driver “A,” will file a lawsuit and will be the “plaintiff,” while Driver “B” will be the “defendant” in the lawsuit. 

What is a Duty of Care and When is It Owed?

To succeed on a negligence claim, the plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty of care. A duty of care is the legal term for a standard of behavior expected of a person. 

A duty of care comes about through either law or custom. Under a duty of care, a person has a responsibility to behave in a way that protects others from unreasonable risk of harm. In other words, a person has a responsibility to act in a manner that is careful and not act in a reckless manner. 

The standard of behavior required of a person depends on the circumstances. In the circumstances of our example, both drivers have a duty of care to other drivers on the road at the same time and in approximately the same area. 

How Do I Show a Breach of Duty?

The second element of negligence is a breach of the duty of care. A breach happens when someone breaks a law, custom, or contract that sets the duty of care. 

To show a breach occurred, the plaintiff has to show that the defendant’s behavior was not appropriately careful under the circumstances.

Put another way, they have to show that the defendant’s act was careless or that a careful person would have acted in a way the defendant did not. 

In the example, Driver “A” will have to prove that Driver “B” acted in a way that a careful person would not have acted by looking down at their phone 

What is Causation for Negligence Claims?

As the third element of negligence, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s acts, or failure to act, caused their injury. There are two types of causation that must be established to succeed on a negligence claim: (1) direct cause and (2) proximate cause. 

What is Direct Cause?

Direct cause is also known as “but-for” cause. As the name suggests, to prove direct cause, a plaintiff has to show that, but for the defendant’s carelessness, they would not have been injured. 

In other words, the defendant’s actions directly caused the accident and injury sustained by the plaintiff. 

What is Proximate Cause?

Proximate cause means that the plaintiff’s injuries have to be reasonably foreseeable consequences of the defendant’s carelessness.

In the example of the rear-end collision with Driver “A” and Driver “B,” Driver “A” will need to show:

  • That Driver “B” owed Driver “A” a duty of care
  • That Driver “B” breached the duty of care by texting and driving and not looking at the road in front of them
  • That, as a result of the acts of Driver “B,” Driver “A” was actually injured 
  • That the acts of Driver “B” were the direct and proximate cause of the injuries to Driver “A”

A knowledgeable personal injury attorney can help Driver “A” make a negligence case against Driver “B” and prove their injuries were reasonably foreseeable.

What Qualifies as an Injury in a Negligence Case?

The injury or injuries are the losses for which the plaintiff is seeking to recover compensation, also called legal damages. Proving these damages is the fourth element of negligence.

Some examples of damages that could form part of a negligence claim include:

  • Bodily injury
  • Death
  • Property damage
  • Financial losses (like medical expenses or lost wages)
  • Emotional injury

While physical injury is not always required, in most cases, the plaintiff must show some bodily injury or property damage to recover compensation under a theory of negligence. 

In the example with Driver “A” and Driver “B,” the damages include:

  • Emergency department bills paid out of pocket by Driver “A”
  • Missed wages for past and future time off work as a result of the injury
  • Medical bills for the treatment of the herniated disc between C5 and C6 vertebrae
  • Pain and partial disability as a result of the injury

Driver “A” may have the total amount of compensation reduced by a percentage if they have pre-existing conditions before the car accident

If, for example, Driver “A” was also engaged in distracted driving and failed to accelerate when the red light turned to green, compensation might also be reduced. A skilled personal injury attorney can help an injury victim minimize their own responsibility for their injuries and maximize the compensation they receive. 

Contact a personal injury attorney or call today (215) 875-7030 to determine if you have a claim for negligence as a result of injuries you sustained in an accident.