A Guide to the Four Elements of Negligence
Most personal injury claims are brought based on negligence. The plaintiff who sues the defendant must prove that the defendant acted negligently by failing to use reasonable care under the circumstances. To have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit, you will need to prove the four distinct elements with supporting evidence. We will take a look at each of these elements to understand what it takes to build a strong personal injury claim.
Element 1: The Defendant Owed You a Duty of Care
First, you will need to prove that the defendant or defendants owed you a legal duty of care. A duty of care is a legal obligation that one person or company has towards another person. We generally do not have a duty to be friendly to other people or help them if they are hurt or in need.
However, we owe others a duty to act with reasonable care, not physically injure others. The duty of care includes exercising reasonable care under the circumstances. Reasonable care means acting with a degree of care which a reasonably careful person would use under the same or similar circumstances.
The court will ask what a reasonably careful person would do under the same situation? What constitutes reasonable care is sometimes the most contentious issue in a personal injury case. If the case proceeds to trial, it will be up to the jury to determine whether the defendant acted with reasonable care or not. For example, all drivers have a legal duty of care to other drivers, pedestrians, and anyone else on the road to drive reasonably under the circumstances.
Likewise, doctors have a duty of care to provide their patients with reasonable medical treatment under the circumstances. Medical professionals have a duty to follow the most widely accepted standard of care. Landowners have a duty of care to people who come onto their property. Manufacturers and retail locations have a duty of care to their customers when it comes to the safety of their products.
Element 2: The Defendant Breached the Duty of Care
After you have established that a duty of care existed between you and the defendant, you will need to show that the defendant breached the duty of care. Without a breach of duty, there is no legal claim for negligence in Georgia. A breach of duty involves acting unreasonably under the circumstances. When deciding whether there has been a breach of the legal duty, a court will consider what a reasonable person would have done under the same or similar circumstances.
A reasonable person would not drive while intoxicated, speed, or text while driving when it comes to car accidents. As a result, when a person texts while driving or drives while intoxicated, they are breaching their duty of care. A reasonable doctor would not fail to provide a patient with adequate follow-up care after performing surgery. A reasonable staff member at a grocery store would not fail to clean up a dangerous pill that they knew about or should have known about.
Elements 3: The Breach of Duty Caused Your Injuries
The third element of a successful personal injury lawsuit based on negligence is causation. Causation can be one of the most challenging elements to prove. The plaintiff must show two types of causation: “but-for” and proximate causation. To successfully prove “but-for” causation, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she wouldn’t have been injured but for the defendant’s actions or inaction. For example, in a drunk-driving lawsuit, the victim would need to show that, but the car accident that caused her injuries would not have occurred but for the defendant’s drunk driving.
To prove the proximate cause, the plaintiff must prove that the accident that caused his or her injuries was a foreseeable consequence of his or her breach of duty. Again, and a drunk driving case, the plaintiff must prove that a car accident is a foreseeable outcome of driving drunk. In some cases, proving causation is relatively easy. If there is video footage that a driver swerved out of his lane into oncoming traffic and the driver had a blood-alcohol level of .09%, proving causation will be straightforward.
In other cases, proving causation is more complicated. For example, proving that a doctor made an error in surgery that caused additional injuries can be difficult. The patient’s medical records could show a possible link between the doctor’s breach of duty and the patient’s injuries. However, there could be a reason to challenge the patient’s claim if he or she had any pre-existing conditions. The doctor may claim that the patient’s pre-existing condition was the “but-for” cause of the patient’s injuries.
Element 4: You Suffered Verifiable Damages
Finally, plaintiffs must prove that the defendant’s negligence caused them damages. The plaintiff must show that he or she incurred actual losses as a direct and proximate result of the defendant’s negligence. In Georgia, personal injury claimants have a right to seek compensation for their economic and non-economic damages. All of the following types of damages are available for plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits:
- Current and future medical bills
- Lost income and benefits
- Last of future income
- Damaged property
- Modifications to home and vehicle
- In-home care expenses
- Adaptive transportation
- Reasonably necessary replacement services
- Pain and suffering
- Sexual dysfunction
- Psychological trauma
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Schedule Your Free Initial Consultation With an Atlanta Personal Injury Attorney
If you or your loved one has been injured in a personal injury accident through no fault of your own, you may be entitled to compensation. Victims have a right to pursue compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. To obtain compensation, you will need to prove the four elements of a negligence lawsuit that we have discussed above. Contact attorney James Rice today to schedule your free initial consultation to discuss your case with an experienced attorney.