What is Negligence?
Most personal injury cases have one factor in common. They are based on allegations that another party was negligent and that negligence caused the injury. Negligence is used to determine whether a party is financially liable for damages caused by an accident.
Why is negligence important in personal injury cases?
As used in personal injury cases, negligence is the failure to exercise the same level of care that a reasonable person would do in a similar or same situation. Negligence also includes the omission of acts that a reasonable person would take in the same or similar situation.
Unless you have some other legal grounds for an injury case, you cannot hold someone financially liable for damages unless you prove each of the four elements of negligence.
Proving the elements of negligence creates a chain of causation that establishes fault and liability for another person’s injuries and damages.
The Four Legal Elements of a Negligence Claim
When building a case for fault and liability after an injury or accident, you need to have evidence proving the following four legal elements:
The at-fault party must owe a legal duty to the victim. A legal duty arises when the parties have a relationship that requires one party to act in a specific manner concerning the other party.
For example, doctors owe a legal duty of care to their patients to act in a manner that meets or exceeds the acceptable standard of care for a particular situation. Drivers owe a duty of care to others using the road to operate their vehicles according to all traffic laws. Property owners owe a duty of care to take reasonable steps to ensure their property is safe for guests, visitors, and customers.
Breach of Duty
Once you establish that a legal duty exists between the parties, you must prove that the at-fault party breached this duty of care. A breach of duty occurs when the at-fault party’s conduct contradicts what a reasonable person would have done in a similar situation.
An example would be a dog owner bringing an aggressive unleashed dog to a park where children are playing. Another example would be a manufacturer failing to perform adequate tests to ensure that a product is not hazardous or defective. A motorist driving at excessive speeds in a school zone or parking lot is another example of a breach of duty.
Duty and breach of duty are not sufficient to prove fault and liability in a personal injury case. You must link the breach of duty directly to the cause of the accident or injury.
Let’s assume a store owner knows that there is a leak in the bathroom, but does nothing to repair the link, clean up the water, or warn customers of the hazard. A customer slips in the bathroom, sustaining broken bones and a brain injury.
Before the fall, the person was in good health and had no injuries. Had it not been for the leak and the water on the floor, the customer would not have slipped on the floor. Therefore, the owner’s failure to make repairs and clean up the water (breach of duty) was the direct cause of the customer’s fall and injury.
Proving causation can be one of the most difficult steps in a personal injury claim. There could be several factors that might contribute to the cause of an injury or accident.
A thorough investigation and analysis of the evidence by an injury lawyer is necessary to develop a strategy for proving causation. Your lawyer may retain expert witnesses to testify how the at-fault party’s actions were a direct cause of your injuries.
The final element of negligence is injury. You must have sustained some type of injury or harm as a consequence of their actions (or failure to act). Typically, only bodily injuries and/or damage to physical property satisfy the “injury” requirement for negligence.
However, once the injury element is established, plaintiffs are free to seek damages for all trauma – physical, emotional, and financial.
Careful documentation of damages increases the chance you receive maximum compensation for damages.
Time Restrictions to File Personal Injury Claims
The Texas statute of limitations sets the deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit. In most cases, the deadline is two years from the date of the injury or accident. Even if you can prove all four elements of negligence, if you wait too long to file a claim or contact a personal injury lawyer, you could lose your right to seek compensation from the party who caused your injury.