“Negligence” is a concept we frequently reference at The Queenan Firm. Many personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuits require the injured party (the plaintiff) to prove that the other party (the defendant) was negligent in order to collect compensation. Our Dallas, Texas personal injury attorneys explain what negligence is, how you prove it, and what it means for your personal injury case.
Definition of Negligence
“Negligence,” in the typical usage, means a failure to take the proper care in doing something. When someone is not careful enough, they can often cause other people injury. Especially when doing dangerous activities like driving, operating construction equipment, or performing surgery, the expected level of care and diligence can be very high.
The legal definition of negligence is closely related to the everyday definition. Simply put, negligence is when someone’s actions fail to meet reasonable standards, and those actions cause someone else injury. Just because there is an injury, though, does not automatically mean the defendant was negligent.
Meeting the legal definition of negligence requires proving four elements about the defendant’s conduct:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty;
- The defendant breached that duty;
- The breach caused the plaintiff injury;
- The plaintiff suffered injuries that a court can compensate, known as “damages.”
This means that an injury is only the result of negligence if the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty in the first place. Most people do not owe others a duty, except to act reasonably. Debating what duty is owed is an important part of a negligence lawsuit.
Breaching a duty means failing to meet the expectations of that duty. In a medical malpractice case, this means failing to care for the patient to the expected standard a reasonable physician would give. In a car accident, this means failing to obey traffic laws or failing to pay attention to the road.
Causation is often tricky in this definition. Things can be the “actual” or “legal” cause of an injury, but be very far-removed from the injury. For instance, if the plaintiff took a train instead of driving, the plaintiff may have avoided their car accident. More outrageously, if the defendant had never been born, they would never have harmed the plaintiff. The cause of an injury must be close, or “proximate” to the injury to count as negligence.
Finally, there must actually be an injury or other harm the court can address. If the plaintiff did not suffer any physical, emotional, or financial harm, then there is nothing for the court to do.
How to Prove Negligence
The actual method of proving negligence varies from case to case, and depends on the legal strategy your attorney takes. Sometimes, there are statutory rules that require how people must act, and actions that violate these rules help prove negligence.
Often, the first step in proving negligence is proving what the exact duty was. Often, the standard for duty is based on what an imaginary, “reasonable person” would do in that situation. This “reasonable person” standard is often modified to the specific type of person in question – such as a “reasonable driver,” a “reasonable construction worker,” or a “reasonable store owner.” Proving what a reasonable person might do is sometimes up to the jury’s interpretation, or could depend on the testimony of people in that position. For instance, parties might call truck drivers, construction workers, or medical experts to testify to what a reasonable person with their training and experience should and should not do – thus establishing the “duty” element.
Demonstrating breach often goes hand in hand with demonstrating the duty. Failing to meet the duty is a breach of the duty – so when a doctor’s care falls below the standard, a truck driver fails to act reasonably, or a store owner allows a puddle to cause a slip and fall accident, the duty may be breached. Proving the defendant’s conduct can require eyewitness testimony, photo or video evidence, or your own testimony about how the defendant harmed you.
Proving causation can be difficult, sometimes. It may require piecing together logical arguments; a chain reaction of cause and effect might be required. Other times, it may require scientific or engineering evidence, especially in cases of pharmaceutical injuries, products liability, or medical malpractice.
Sometimes, injury is unavoidable. This makes proving causation difficult. Since you must prove that the defendant’s breach caused your injuries, if you would have sustained injury even if the defendant took the proper care, your injuries were not “caused” by the negligence. This is a common defense in medical malpractice cases, and may be used in car accident cases as well.
Proving damages often comes down to good record-keeping. Bills, bank statements, and other financial records can demonstrate the cost of medical expenses and photographs can document injuries. Medical records and doctors’ opinions are also excellent evidence of injury. Finally, in order to explain how the injury personally affected you, keeping a journal of your injuries, recovery process, and how the injury affects your life is excellent for proving pain and suffering at trial.
Dallas, Texas Personal Injury Lawyers
The attorneys at The Queenan Law Firm, P.C., can help take your personal injury case to court and get you the compensation you need. Though the road to proving the party who harmed you was negligent might be difficult, our attorneys have experience helping injured victims and may be able to help you, too. Call (817) 476-1797 today for a free consultation with our attorneys.