Negligence is a legal concept that occupies a gray area between intentional wrongdoing and simple accident. It means that someone has failed to act as a reasonable person would and, in so doing, has caused injury or damage to another party. The specifics might vary by state, but all jurisdictions recognize the four essential elements of negligence as duty, breach, injury, and causation.
1. Duty of Care
A state of mind must be present for liability to arise from tort actions. Essentially, liability depends on the accused party having acted with care and caution. The duty element of negligence is important because it creates an obligation on the defendant’s part to take precautions against foreseeable risks of harm and avoid unnecessary danger.
For negligence to be proven, an individual must have been negligent in either:
- Failing to take action when action was required
- Failing to take appropriate action when action was required.
2. Breach of Duty
Another important element of negligence is the breach of duty. This refers to a failure to act as a reasonable person would in a certain situation. For instance, it’s common to see situations where someone has a duty of care to another person, such as landlords and tenants or physicians and patients.
If a landlord fails to repair broken steps leading up to an apartment, and the tenant trips and falls down the steps, then the landlord is likely liable for the injuries that occur. Suppose a physician fails to perform a routine checkup on a patient and misses an obvious cancer diagnosis. In that case, the physician may be liable for any damages that result from the missed diagnosis.
The injury element of negligence is a legal standard that must be met before a defendant can be held liable for the harm caused to a plaintiff. For example, if you are involved in an auto accident, and the other driver tells you not to worry about it, you may find yourself liable under the doctrine of negligence per se. If you fail to report the accident and get into another while driving away from the scene, both drivers may be held liable.
Injury is defined as “the failure to exercise reasonable care regarding one’s property or physical welfare.” Under this definition, if you have an accident but do not suffer any damage or injury, then you may not have a valid negligence claim. However, if you are injured because of another person’s negligent behavior, then you may be able to hold that person responsible for your injuries. Injuries may include pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical bills.
Causation is an essential element of negligence claims. In a court of law, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s negligence was the direct cause of their harm. For example, if a motorist runs a red light and hits another car, then the driver who ran the red light would be liable for any injuries caused by the crash. It is up to the plaintiff to show a direct link between the defendant’s actions and their injury.
If the defendant’s actions are deemed negligent but not the direct cause of harm, they will not be held liable for damages. For example, if a motorist has a heart attack while driving because they were not wearing their seatbelt and crashed into a tree, they would not be held liable for damages because there is no direct link between their lack of seatbelt and the injury suffered by someone in another car.