For A Personal Injury Lawsuit, You Need Negligence – But Just What Is It?

Law Blog

One of the complicated things about the law is the language involved. Many times, legal terms look familiar, but their definitions in everyday use and in the court of law may be slightly different. Negligence is one such word; it's an important term in personal injury law because only cases of negligence can lead to lawsuits.

In everyday use, negligence means not taking the care or responsibility you should. In personal injury law, it's a little more specific. Cases of negligence must meet two requirements: causation and breach of duty. The more clearly an accident meets these requirements, the more easily a lawyer can argue that there has been negligence. Of course, it's best to discuss your particular case with an attorney to get an expert opinion on whether your case meets the negligence requirements.

Causation: A Chain Of Events

The first requirement for negligence is that there's a clear connection between the negligent person's actions (or inaction) and the accident. Sometimes, this may be very obvious: if someone drives through a red light and hits another car, that action clearly led to the accident.

It's also important that the chain of events is connected in a way that could be foreseen by the negligent person. If they drive through a red light, causing another car to have to brake hard to avoid them, they haven't caused an accident. What if, the next day, the person who braked to avoid them is so nervous because of their close call that their anxiety distracts them, causing them to back into another car in a parking lot?

It would be impossible to argue that the first driver could have foreseen that this might happen. So although you might argue that there's a logical connection between running the red light and the later accident, it doesn't fit the legal requirements for negligence.

Many cases are more arguable, however. What if a driver tries to brake at a red light but their brakes don't work properly? What if a driver goes to hit the brakes but hits the gas pedal instead? What if a driver hits the brakes but the wet road causes them to skid? This is where a lawyer's skill at argument is important – so that they can make the connection between negligence and the accident clear.

Breach of Duty: Reasonable Or Careless Action

The second thing needed for legal negligence is called "breach of duty." It's a slightly odd term, and it's easier to think of it in terms of whether a person's actions were reasonable or careless. Some cases are clear-cut: driving through a red light is certainly not reasonable. Others, however, are more complicated.

Looking at the example of skidding into an intersection because of a wet road, the question becomes whether the driver was driving in a reasonable or careless way. What would you expect from a good driver in wet conditions: that they would use their wipers, have their lights on, perhaps drive more slowly and give themselves extra stopping distance?

If the driver did all this and still skidded into an intersection and hit another car, that's not a case of negligence. If a driver didn't – if they were driving just as they would in dry conditions – then a lawyer could argue that they were negligent.

If you are thinking about filing a lawsuit, consider hiring a personal injury lawyer, like those at Swartz & Swartz P.C., to help determine negligence in your case.


20 August 2015

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