What is Negligence?

Guide to the Law of Negligence in the United States

Accidents happen. But when those accidents could have been prevented, but weren’t due to carelessness, the concept of negligence comes into play. In the U.S., negligence law establishes a framework for holding individuals or entities accountable for failing to exercise proper care, resulting in harm to others.

Each state has its own negligence laws, so be sure to check the laws specific to your location, or talk to a local lawyer.

What does negligence consist of?

For a negligence claim to succeed, the plaintiff (injured party) must prove the following four elements:

1. Duty of Care: The defendant (party being sued) owed the plaintiff a legal duty to act with reasonable care under the circumstances. This duty can arise from various factors, like the inherent dangers of an activity or a pre-existing relationship (e.g., doctor-patient).

2. Breach of Duty: The defendant breached this duty by acting carelessly or failing to act at all. This could involve actions like speeding, ignoring safety protocols, or not maintaining property in a safe condition.

3. Causation: The defendant’s breach of duty was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. In other words, the harm wouldn’t have occurred “but for” the defendant’s negligence.

4. Damages: The plaintiff suffered actual damages as a result of the defendant’s negligence. These damages can be financial (medical bills, lost wages) or non-financial (pain and suffering).

What are the different types of negligence?

Negligence law encompasses various scenarios, each with its own nuances:

Common Negligence: This is the most common type, where a reasonable person would have foreseen the potential for harm and acted differently.

Comparative Negligence: Some states have comparative negligence laws, which means the plaintiff’s own negligence can be factored into the equation. For instance, a driver who is speeding but gets hit by a driver who ran a red light might share some portion of the blame.

Gross Negligence: This involves a higher degree of carelessness, showing a conscious disregard for the safety of others.

Product Liability: This area of negligence law deals with injuries caused by defective products. Also see our Guide to Consumer Laws.

What evidence is useful for a negligence case?

In a negligence lawsuit, evidence is crucial. This can include:

  • Medical Records: Documenting the extent of the injuries.
  • Accident Reports: Police reports or other official documentation of the incident.
  • Witness Testimony: Statements from people who saw the accident or the unsafe conditions.
  • Expert Opinions: Testimony from professionals who can explain the standard of care or how the defendant’s actions caused the harm.

What can I expect from a lawyer in a negligence case?

Personal injury lawyers specializing in negligence can guide you through the legal process. They can help gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, and represent you in court if necessary.

Further Resources

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