Negligence is one of the most common legal concepts in personal injury law. At its core, it means that you were injured because another person acted unreasonably. If you were injured in an accident in Denver, CO, because of another person’s carelessness, you may be able to pursue a claim of negligence and recover compensation for your injuries.
Let’s take a closer look at negligence and what is involved in proving a negligence claim.
In legal terms, negligence is a tort claim. Essentially, you may have a claim for negligence if you were injured by another person’s carelessness. To succeed on a claim of negligence, you must prove four elements:
For example, imagine you were injured in a car accident, and you believe that the other driver was at fault because they changed lanes without using their turn signal. To prove a negligence claim against them, you would need to show that the defendant’s behavior–changing lanes without using a turn signal–was negligent by proving each of these elements.
Let’s look at each of these elements in more detail.
To prove a negligence claim, a plaintiff must first show that the defendant owed them a duty of care. But what does this mean?
A duty of care is a legal obligation one has to act in a certain way so as to reduce the risk of harm to others. Put another way, in the eyes of the law, we are generally expected to act in a way that doesn’t expose others to unreasonable or unnecessary harm.
The most common duty of care is to act as a reasonably prudent person would under the same or similar circumstances.
For example, if you were injured in a car accident because another driver failed to use their turn signal, you would need to show that the other driver owed you a duty of care. This would be fairly easy to prove because, when you’re driving, you owe other drivers and passengers on the road a duty of care. This duty of care entails driving safely and obeying traffic laws.
A duty of care is breached when the defendant’s actions or omissions do not satisfy the required standard of care. Generally, this means showing that the defendant’s conduct was unreasonable under the circumstances.
Let’s go back to our example of the car accident. You would need to show that the driver breached the duty of care they owed you while driving. If a reasonable driver would have used a turn signal to change lanes in that situation, and the other driver failed to use a turn signal, then that omission was unreasonable. Accordingly, the other driver breached their duty of care.
The next element of a negligence claim is injury. This element is also referred to as damages. For the purposes of a negligence claim, an injury is a negative consequence of the accident. An accident might result in the following damages:
As you can see, injuries in a negligence claim are not limited to physical injuries.
Let’s look at our example again. If the car accident caused you to suffer a back and neck injury and miss work for several weeks, you could claim that your damages included physical pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages. You might even be able to claim future costs such as future medical care and loss of earning capacity.
If your vehicle was damaged in the accident, then you would also include the costs to repair your vehicle, the cost to replace your vehicle, or the loss of value in your vehicle. These are all injuries, or damages, that you would include in your negligence claim.
The last element of a negligence claim is causation. This element actually has two sub-elements. You must prove that the defendant’s behavior was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries.
Direct cause, sometimes called “cause-in-fact,” means that you would not have been injured if the defendant had not breached their duty of care. Put differently, “but for” the defendant’s behavior, you would not have been injured.
Proximate cause, sometimes called “legal cause,” means that your injuries were a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s behavior. That is, the defendant’s actions were sufficiently related to the injury you suffered in the eyes of the law.
Let’s look at our car accident example again. You suffered a back and neck injury and damage to your vehicle as a result of your vehicle colliding with the defendant’s. You would argue that you would not have had a car accident if the defendant had driven reasonably and used their turn signal.
The injuries you suffered were all foreseeable consequences of a driving accident caused by driving unreasonably and failing to use a turn signal.
While these elements may seem straightforward, they can be hotly contested in a personal injury case. If you were injured in a car accident or some other incident because of someone else’s carelessness, contact an experienced Denver personal injury lawyer to discuss your potential negligence claim.