You may have heard the term “negligence” before. Many people use this term in casual conversation. However, negligence has a distinct legal meaning and is an important part of tort law.
Negligence is when someone fails to use reasonable care and, as a result, causes another person to suffer an injury. The injury might be bodily harm, psychological suffering, or even property damage.
In a negligence case, the victim is requesting compensation for the losses – or damages – caused by the responsible party. Most personal injury victims can seek payment for financial and non-financial losses related to the accident.
A personal injury lawyer can help you understand your legal rights in a negligence case and calculate your damages.
What Are the Four Elements of Negligence?
In every negligence case, the plaintiff must prove four different elements by a preponderance of the evidence. This is called the burden of proof.
The plaintiff must prove:
- The defendant owed them a duty of care
- The defendant breached the duty of care
- The breach caused the plaintiff’s injury
- The plaintiff has suffered damages
If the plaintiff fails to prove any single element, they will lose the case. In other words, each element is essential to a negligence claim.
What Is the Duty of Care?
Every person has a duty to use reasonable care throughout their daily life. Reasonable care comes in different forms, depending on the circumstances. It can look like checking for oncoming traffic before turning, ensuring that your property is safe for visitors, or following the safety rules at work.
“Reasonable care” is defined as using the same level of care that an ordinary and prudent person would use in a similar situation. An ordinary and prudent person is a fictional standard that the courts use in negligence cases. This fictional person is not perfect. However, they follow the laws and think about others’ safety before they act.
Essentially, the court will look at the defendant’s behavior given the circumstances and then decide if a reasonable person would act similarly.
What Does It Mean To Breach the Duty of Care?
A defendant breaches the duty of care when they fail to act as a reasonable person would in the same circumstances. Just because the defendant makes a mistake, doesn’t automatically mean they breached their duty. In fact, if the mistake was unforeseeable, they probably didn’t breach the duty of care.
How Do You Prove Causation?
An important part of negligence is proving causation. That is, the defendant’s breach was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries. If the defendant didn't cause your injuries, they aren’t responsible for paying for your damages.
Causation is made up of both direct and proximate causes. Direct cause means that the defendant’s actions are the cause-in-fact. Essentially, but for the defendant’s actions, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt. Proximate cause means that the injury or accident was a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s actions.
In some cases, proving causation is fairly straightforward.
For example, if you are hit by someone who is texting while driving and swerves into your lane, you can easily prove that they caused the car accident and therefore your injuries. If they hadn’t been texting and driving, they wouldn’t have swerved and hit you. Furthermore, a foreseeable consequence of texting and driving is causing an accident by swerving into someone else’s lane.
However, imagine that you are involved in a multi-car pileup. In that case, it may be more difficult to prove who actually caused your injury. Was it the person immediately behind you? Or the person behind them that pushed their car into yours?
You can see how causation can sometimes become one of the most complicated aspects of a negligence claim.
What Damages Are Available in a Negligence Case?
Even if someone breaches their duty of care, a plaintiff doesn’t have a case unless they prove they sustained damages. You can’t recover money unless you are actually injured in some way. Damages may include bodily injury, property damage, or even emotional trauma.
In many negligence cases, a plaintiff is entitled to compensation for:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Permanent disability or disfigurement
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of companionship
However, damages are unique to the negligence case at hand. The plaintiff will need to produce evidence to support their request for damages. This evidence may include bills, pay stubs, invoices, medical records, and even testimony from friends and family.
Contact a Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer for Help Proving Your Negligence Claim
A Chicago personal injury attorney is your best bet for meeting the burden of proof in your negligence claim. These types of cases can quickly become complicated, depending on the facts. It’s better to hire a professional than to risk losing your chance to recover compensation.