What do you do when you have been injured or your property has been damaged through the fault of one or more other people, or an organization? There is a series of steps you would go through (likely working with an attorney) to establish that harm has been done by someone’s carelessness.
In other words, you want to know how to prove negligence.
This falls in the realm of tort law, the branch of law that deals with civil wrongs. Negligence is just one branch of tort law, but there are many attorneys who specialize in it.
The Legal Information Institute defines negligence as “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.”
This is a very straightforward definition. The steps toward proving negligence are more complex.
How to Prove Negligence in Five Essential Steps
These steps are also known as the elements of negligence. Each is discussed below.
This word is defined by Merriam-Webster as “obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position.” This definition seems appropriate because it can be applied in many different situations, whereas other definitions might focus more narrowly.
In the legal context, duty is a legal obligation, and there are two kinds of duty to consider:
- Duty of Care means to act as any reasonable person would under particular circumstances.
- Special Duty of Care is imposed by statute, and may exist either in addition to, or in place of the regular duty of care. In other words, it’s when someone is obligated to perform in a way an average person is not necessarily expected or obligated to do.
“Duty” is directly connected to “negligence” because when someone is performing her or his duty properly, that person is not being negligent.
Breach of Duty
Therefore, it’s clear that when there is a breach of duty, there is a degree of negligence involved. Breach of duty is key in how to prove negligence. When determining the degree of the breach, things begin to get complicated.
The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant fell short of the expectations of duty under the relevant circumstances. In other words, the defendant failed to act with reasonable care. But what is “reasonable” and how do you determine what “a reasonable person” would do?
Also known as “cause in fact,” actual cause is a straightforward cause of something, For example, someone trips on an electrical cord and falls while visiting a neighbor. So the neighbor, as the homeowner, might be responsible for the fall.
Justia explains that actual cause “may not be the first event that set in motion a sequence of events that led to an injury, and it may not be the very last event before the injury occurs. Instead, it is an action that produced foreseeable consequences without intervention from anyone else.”
Was the actual cause negligence on the part of the defendant, pure and simple, or were there mitigating factors? If there is ambiguity, this likely goes to proximate cause.
In law, a proximate cause is an event with enough relevance to an injury for the courts to deem that event the cause of that injury. This concept is trickier to explain and determine than actual cause, so states generally use either the “but for” or the “substantial factor” test.
- Would the injury have occurred but for the defendant’s negligent action or lack of action? When there is a finding that an injury would not have happened but for a defendant’s actions, this is due to proximate cause.
- Similarly, with substantial factor, the decision is based on whether or not the defendant’s actions (or lack thereof) were a substantial factor in causing the injury.
In the case of the electrical cord above, it is obvious that someone was negligent for having left the cord in a way that made tripping likely. But was it the fault of the homeowner, who likely placed the device connected to the cord?
If so, was that homeowner fully responsible for stretching the cord in a dangerous way, or was someone else involved as well? It might have been a careless family member, but perhaps it was carpet cleaners who had come recently and were negligent in their duty of care.
Actual cause and proximate cause together comprise causation. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the breach of duty was both the actual and the proximate cause of the negligence.
Damages are the outcome of a defendant’s conduct as determined by a court. The Legal Information Institute defines damages as, “the sum of money the law imposes for a breach of some duty or violation of some right.”
Suing for damages is about trying to recover compensation for harm done–generally personal injury or damage to property. The plaintiff is suing for a remedy in the form of a monetary award to be paid as compensation for loss or injury
Negligence claims most often involve working with a plaintiff, a defendant, and their respective insurance providers. This is a complex set of processes that likely will require the services of an attorney.
What Are Some Examples of Negligence Torts?
- Slip and fall accidents (someone falls on your property and claims the fall was caused by a safety hazard, such as an icy sidewalk)
- Medical malpractice (such as errors in administering anesthesia, mistakes during childbirth, misdiagnosis of health conditions, etc.)
- Motor vehicle accidents (lack of care in driving automobiles, motorcycles, trucks, etc.)
Negligence torts differ from intentional torts, such as false imprisonment, trespassing, and fraud. According to USLegal.com, an intentional tort is “a civil wrong that occurs when the wrongdoer engages in intentional conduct that results in damages to another.”
There are also absolute (or strict) liability torts, where causation is certain. These include defective products, attacks by dangerous animals, and similar situations. Law Shelf defines strict liability as, “liability that does not depend on actual negligence but that is based on the breach of an absolute duty to make something safe.”
You will see that the laws of Florida–as with any state–are very detailed and complex. Tort law is certainly no exception. That is why we highly recommend seeking the services of an attorney trained and experienced in tort law, especially when determining how to prove negligence.
If you or a loved one are injured or you experience property damage, you need professional help-seeking remedial damages. If you want to be successful, don’t try to “go it alone.” Hire an attorney!