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Understanding the Role of Negligence in a Personal Injury Case

The McClellan Law Firm

Negligence is a term that frequently arises in the realm of personal injury law. This directly influences whether a person or entity may be held accountable for another's injuries. To offer helpful insight regarding personal injury law, we will define negligence and look at its role in these cases. It is important to remember that every case is different and the manner in which negligence or other factors applying to fault apply will vary. If you have questions regarding a particular case, you may find it helpful to discuss the matter directly with a San Diego injury attorney at our firm.

Negligence may be generally defined as a failure to take proper care in doing something. A more complete definition, as given by Encarta Dictionary, is "a civil wrong tort causing injury or harm to another person or to property as the result of doing something or failing to provide a proper or reasonable level of care."

A person or entity (business, corporation, organization, etc.) can be held legally responsible for physical and/or psychological injury that occurs to another as a result of an action or inaction that constitutes a failure to act with reasonable care. A person who has come to harm as the result of another's negligence may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party to seek financial compensation.

Also referred to as compensatory damages or monetary damages, financial compensation is awarded in a personal injury action to help a victim rebuild his or her life to as similar a situation as it was in prior to the injury. This may include money for medical bills, continued medical treatment, physical therapy, medical supplies and medication, lost earnings, loss of future or potential earnings and also non-economic losses like loss of enjoyment of life, pain, suffering, loss of companionship or other emotional trauma.

Proving Negligence to Secure a Win in a Personal Injury Action

To win a personal injury lawsuit based off negligence, the plaintiff (injured party or representative) must prove:

  • The defendant (allegedly at-fault party) had a duty to the plaintiff;
  • The defendant breached this duty in some way;
  • The plaintiff was injured; and
  • This breach was the proximate (probable, most likely) cause of the plaintiff's injuries.

Let us take a closer look at these four points:

First, the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff. This duty may vary depending on the type of injury case. In a car accident case, for example, a driver has an obligation to obey traffic laws and to drive in a reasonably safe manner. The plaintiff must prove that this duty existed in some way.

Second, the defendant breached this duty. Using a car accident as an example again, a breach of this duty may be: running a red light, texting while driving or swerving from one's own lane. A good way to determine whether this duty was breached (and if the defendant was negligent) is to compare the defendant's action or inaction to the behavior of a reasonable person in the same situation. If you can say that a reasonable individual would not have acted in the same manner, this may be an indication of negligence.

Third, the plaintiff was injured. This aspect of a personal injury case is relatively self-explanatory. It must be proven that the plaintiff sustained quantifiable injuries.

Finally, the defendant's act or inaction was the cause of the plaintiff's injuries. Here, a link between the defendant's conduct and the plaintiff's injuries must be established. In a personal injury action, proof is not required beyond a shadow of a doubt as in criminal proceedings. It must be established based on a majority of evidence.

Interested in finding out more about negligence and personal injury law as a whole? The McClellan Law Firm offers legal representation to the injured and wronged in San Diego and throughout California. If you need help after a car accident, work injury or other similar accident, please do not hesitate to call our offices for a free consultation.