What are the Different Elements of Negligence?
In California, the majority of personal injury claims are brought under the state’s negligence standard. To hold another party legally liable for an accident, plaintiffs are generally required to prove that the defendant’s negligence was, at least partially, the cause of their injuries.
This raises an important question: what exactly is negligence? Here, our Los Angeles personal injury attorney provides an overview of the required elements of negligence and explains how California’s comparative fault rules could affect your claim.
The Elements of Negligence: California
Negligence is most simply defined as the failure to take proper care. It is unreasonably careless conduct that causes an injury to another party. In a California personal injury claim, plaintiffs are usually required to prove negligence in order to recover financial compensation.
As noted in the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions, California negligence law has four required legal elements:
- Duty: To start, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed them a duty of care. A duty of care is essentially the standard of precaution that should have been taken in a given situation. As an example, drivers owe a duty of care to everyone else on the road. They must comply with traffic regulations and operate their vehicle in a reasonably safe manner. In certain circumstances, the standard of care is higher. For example, commercial truck operators generally have a heightened duty of care.
- Breach: Once you establish the standard of care that the defendant should have abided by, you then must prove that the defendant failed to live up to that duty. This is generally referred to as a breach of the duty of care. A breach of the duty of care could be anything from a motorist texting while driving to an apartment complex failing to fix a broken light in a dark stairwell.
- Causation: Proving a breach of duty is not sufficient to prevail in a personal injury lawsuit. The plaintiff must also prove that there is a causal connection between the defendant’s negligent act and their injuries. For example, if you were involved in an accident with another driver, you cannot hold them liable because they ran a red light several hours earlier. While that traffic violation is a breach of the duty of care, it is fundamentally unconnected to your accident. Therefore, the causation element would not be satisfied.
- Damages: Finally, injured victims must prove their damages. If you did not suffer actual harm, you will not be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit. For the most part, personal injury damages are compensatory in nature. This means that all losses — economic and noneconomic — should be carefully documented with supporting evidence.
California is a Comparative Negligence State
Beyond establishing the elements for negligence, injured victims also need to understand the implications of California’s comparative negligence legal standard. As explained by the Cornell Legal Information Institute, comparative negligence is a tort rule that allows for the allocation of blame to be distributed across multiple parties — potentially including victims of the accident.
Under California’s pure comparative fault rules, defendants will be held legally liable in direct proportion to their share of the blame. In some personal injury cases, the assignment of blame becomes a critically important issue.
As an example, imagine that you were involved in car accident in Los Angeles and that you suffered $24,000 in financial damages in the collision. If another driver was found to be liable for 100 percent of this crash, you could hold them liable for 100 percent of your damages — the full $24,000.
In contrast, if you were found to be at fault for 33 percent of the crash, then your recovery would be reduced by that same percentage — you would be at fault for $8,000 of your own damages, and thus, you would only be able to recover for $16,000. Getting blamed for an unjust share of your own injuries could take thousands out of your settlement or injury verdict.
Were You Injured in an Accident in Southern California?
We can help. At Starpoint Law, our Los
Angeles personal injury lawyers are strong, aggressive advocates for injured
victims. If you or loved one suffered serious injuries as the result of the
negligence of another party, we are ready to help you fight for the full and
fair compensation that you deserve. For a free, no obligation case evaluation,
please do not hesitate to contact
our law firm today.