In most cases, where claims arise from injuries such as car accidents or slip and fall injuries, the basis for holding a person legally responsible for an injury is known as negligence.
Negligence refers to conduct that falls below the standards of behavior established by law for protection of others against unreasonable risk or harm. A person has acted negligently if he or she has departed from the conduct expected of a reasonably prudent person in the given circumstances. Essentially, negligence means to fail to exercise the care that a sensible person would exercise in a similar situation. For negligence to be established in a personal injury case, the complainant must show that someone behaved in an impetuous manner and that person’s impetuousness directly resulted in your personal injury.
When the complainant is proving the case, they must prove that the defendant:
- Owed them a certain level of care
- Breached the duty of care owed to them through their action or inaction
- Caused the accident that resulted in the complainants injury
Elements of a negligence case
The elements of a negligence case can be divided into duty, breach, causation and damages. For example, if you called a homeowner and informed them that you would be making a house call at a specified time, but when you arrive at that precise time, you see that the homeowners’ dog is open and unrestrained and you get bitten by the dog. If the dog has been known to display aggressive behavior in the past, is of a breed known for aggressive behavior and is large and strong enough to be able to cause serious injury to a person, then the homeowner is guilty of negligence because the dog was open at the time which you had already informed the home owner you would be there. This is irrespective of the fact that the dog was obviously dangerous. In this case, the homeowner had a duty to lock up or restrain the dog at the time when you were expected to reach, or before. That duty was breached when they failed to lock up their dog, and their failure to lock up the dog was a direct cause of your damages.
Proximate cause refers to the scope of a defendant’s responsibility in a personal injury case. In a negligence case, the defendant is only responsible for those damages that he or she could have foreseen resulting from their action or inaction. If the damages caused to the complainant could not have been foreseen by the defendant, then the complainant cannot prove that the defendant is guilty of negligent behavior.
For example, if the same homeowner in the example above kept his dog in a gated backyard that is not accessible from his property’s main entrance, the backyard gate has a “Beware of dog” sign and a visitor shows up unannounced and walks into the backyard despite the gate being shut and the sign on the gate, then the homeowner cannot be held liable for negligent behavior. This is because:
- The homeowner had already taken measures to separate the dangerous dog from the general population
- The homeowner had no way of knowing that there would be a visitor at the house who would need to be protected from the dangerous dog
- The visitor entered the property and would have known there is a potentially dangerous dog present in the backyard because of the “beware of dog” sign, and entered anyway
- The visitor was not present on the homeowners property because of any action carried out by the homeowner, but decided to enter the property himself
In certain personal injury cases, other parties that weren’t directly involved in how you were injured may be partially or directly responsible and as such can be held accountable. There is an additional component to negligence known as “vicarious liability”. Vicarious liability means that one person or business can be held liable for the negligent action or inaction of another person, even if they have no direct responsibility for the injury. For example, if a school has a gym class instructor who pushes his students unreasonably hard and a student gets injured, then the school can be held liable for the injury even though the administration of the school doesn’t directly oversee the gym class. Parents who are held liable for their children’s actions are also held liable under vicarious liability.
Oftentimes, the principle of vicarious liability is used so that the person or business with the greatest financial resources or greatest insurance coverage is held liable. This is done so that the complainant’s chances of being compensated for their injury are improved.
Establishing negligence doesn’t only apply to individuals but also applies to businesses, corporations, conglomerates, associations, organizations and firms. They can all be held legally liable if they behave in a manner that endangers anyone because of negligent behavior. This is important to remember if you are ever injured because of using faulty, unsafe or hazardous products. In these cases, the company that manufactures, distributes or sells it to you is responsible for making sure that using their products doesn’t put any of their customer’s physical safety at risk. Businesses can also be held liable in what are termed as “slip and fall” incidents in which the company can be held liable if you slip and fall on the business premises where the company should have known and informed you that there was a condition that could lead to you slipping and falling.
Certain kinds of accident cases will not fit into negligence, and are known as “strict liability”. These cases are related to products in which the injury wasn’t a result of shoddy or negligent manufacturing practices but because the original design of the product itself was far too dangerous to allow it to be commercially available.
If you have sustained an injury as a result of another person’s negligence, then it is important that you equip yourself with an attorney who has experience and success in prosecuting such cases.
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