Negligence is the failure to take the proper care that a reasonable person would take. The law of negligence is important because it provides a civil remedy for behavior that doesn’t rise to the level of criminal. It creates an incentive to behave carefully and ensures that those who fail to take reasonable care suffer repercussions. Additionally, negligence claims can provide damages for those who are the victim’s of negligence. Many times these damages are necessary to pay off bills that a victim incurred as a result of another’s negligence.
A common example of negligence would be a driver that fails to reduce his speed in icy conditions. While the speed limit may be 45 mph on a regular day, a reasonable person would slow down because they recognize that driving 45 mph may endanger other drivers on the road. The driver that fails to slow down risks colliding with other vehicles on the road.
Elements of Negligence
There are four elements that must be proven in order to prevail on a claim of negligence. First, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care. There are many different ways that a duty may arise, but the broad rule is that an actor has a duty to exercise reasonable care whenever their conduct creates a risk of physical harm to another. In the traffic example above, the driver owes a duty of care to other drivers on the road.
Once a plaintiff establishes that the defendant owed them a duty of care, they must prove that the defendant breached that duty of care. This is simply providing evidence that defendant failed to use reasonable care on a particular occasion. For example, the driver breached his duty of care to other drivers by failing to reduce his speed in icy conditions.
Next, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions were the cause of his injuries. This step includes proving that the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s breach and that a reasonable person would have anticipated it was a potential consequence. Continuing with the example from before, if the driver was driving slower than the collision would not have occurred. Furthermore, it is foreseeable to a reasonable driver that a car accident was a potential consequence.
Finally, a plaintiff must request specific damages that are logically connected to the harm that they suffered. Damages are calculated in varying ways depending on the jurisdiction. That being said, damages from negligence claims can range from hundreds to millions of dollars.