Accidents can happen to anybody, but every once in a while, people encounter accidents that could have been avoided. When these accidents cause harm, the victims often turn to personal injury lawsuits to help them find the funds to recover properly and get justice for their injuries. But not every injury warrants a personal injury claim.
In most cases, personal injury suits hinge on the concept of negligence.
What is negligence?
In legal circles, negligence is the “failure to exercise the care toward others which a reasonable or prudent person would do in the circumstances.”
“Failure to exercise care toward others” – This portion of the definition is the most commonly understood part of the definition. If someone fails to exercise care toward others, they are acting in a manner that does not take someone else’s safety into consideration.
“Which a reasonable or prudent person would do in the circumstances” – This portion of the definition is the most important in a personal injury suit. By making this specification, the definition provides context to the negligent act and helps legal professionals determine whether or not someone is liable for their actions in a civil suit.
How is negligence determined legally?
Legal professionals generally use four questions to determine whether a party acted with negligence:
1. Did they have a “duty of care?”
“Duty of care” refers to the reasonable expectation that someone should be care about another person’s safety. For instance, if someone has a dog, they have a duty of care to make sure it does not bite people.
2. Did they breach that duty?
In the example of the dog, did the owner let the dog off the leash? Did the dog get out because they failed to maintain their fence properly? Did they know the dog was loose in the first place?
The second part of the legal definition of negligence comes into play here. Would a reasonable person have let their dog off the leash in a crowded park?
3. Did that breach cause harm?
Legal professionals have to make a relatively direct connection between the offending party’s actions and the victim’s injuries. For example, someone runs a red light and crashes into a bicyclist. The crash is a direct cause of those injuries. If the bicyclist got scared by the car and crashes into a pedestrian, the initial driver’s negligent action is not directly responsible for the pedestrian’s injuries.
4. Can that harm be translated into damages?
Finally, personal injury attorneys have to determine if the victim suffered real harm and whether that harm can be compensated. In the example of the dog bite, the victim required stitches in their hand and had to take time off of work until they healed. The cost of the medical procedure and the lost wages from missing work provide concrete numbers for damages. The victim’s lawyer could use evidence like pay stubs and the hospital bill to verify the amount.
Discuss your situation with a professional
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries because of someone else’s negligence, discuss your case with a lawyer. An experienced personal injury attorney can walk through the four above criteria with you and help you determine whether you have a legitimate claim.