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5 Elements to Prove Another Party is Negligent

The basis for most personal injury lawsuits is a legal concept known as negligence. If you’re considering filing a claim, it can be helpful to understand the five distinct elements of negligence and how they relate to one another to form the basis of any claim. This will give you the best chance of securing compensation after an injury.

The definition of negligence is “the failure to do an act that a reasonably prudent person would do, or the doing of an act which a reasonably prudent person would not do, under the same or similar circumstances to protect oneself or others from bodily injury, death, property damage.”

Negligent conduct most often involves an action, such as hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk or running a stop sign. But negligence also encompasses inaction, in other words, a failure to act, which could include a building owner who does not fix a crack in the sidewalk or who negligently fails to remedy a hazardous condition that could injure a customer.

What Are the 5 Elements of Negligence?

The 5 elements of negligence are:

  • Duty of Care
  • Breach of Care
  • Cause in Fact
  • Proximate Cause
  • Damages

The United States court system is established to hear civil cases based on negligence. Therefore, to prove liability in personal injury lawsuits, one needs to demonstrate that someone acted negligently.

Often, the most frequent types of negligence are failure related to duty of care or breach of care. However, the facts in an auto accident or a slip and fall accident may easily be nothing more than a cause-and-effect relationship that designates negligence to one or more parties.

Negligence is the failure to provide safe and reasonable care, regardless of intention. Therefore, if you are a victim of negligence, you are entitled to damages for your injuries and lost wages.

Speaking with an attorney at Greenberg & Stein is your first step toward seeking justice. We represent many different victims of personal injury cases, ranging from auto accidents to medical malpractice and slip and fall accidents.

Our reputable law firm is available for an initial free consultation to discuss the details of your case. You are under no obligation, and everything that gets discussed is confidential. It is our goal to serve you with the respect and professionalism you deserve.

Reach out to an experienced attorney today to find out how you can pursue damages for emergency room visits, doctor appointments, surgeries, lost time from work, and emotional damages.

5 Elements of Negligence Explained

While we may use the word “negligent” broadly in our day-to-day lives, a legal claim involving negligence has five distinct elements, all of which must be proven to win a personal injury case. If you fail to show even one of these five elements, then you will not be able to be compensated for your injuries.

1. Duty of Care

Duty of Care is when the law recognizes a certain relationship between two parties where one party has a legal obligation to protect the other from physical harm. This can cover a wide range of situations, but common examples where a duty of care exists include the following:

  • Drivers have a duty of care to exercise caution with other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians that share the roadway. Additionally, they are required to abide by all laws and traffic signals.
  • A business owner has a duty to keep the premises safe for customers, should regularly inspect the property to fix any problems within a reasonable length of time, and should warn customers in the meantime.
  • Manufacturers of products or pharmaceuticals have a duty to ensure that their products do not pose unreasonable harm to customers and that the customers must be warned of any dangers or risks.

2. Breach of Care

The second element of negligence requires someone to have breached their duty of care. The court will look at what a “reasonably prudent person” would do under similar circumstances, which means how the average person would act in a given situation.

3. Cause in Fact

Causation, or the causes and effects of human choices, also plays a role in negligence. The principle of negligence means that the plaintiff in a personal injury case must establish a cause-and-effect relationship between neglect and the harm.

The cause in fact element of negligence means that you cannot put the responsibility on a defendant without establishing a clear cause-and-effect relationship. Therefore, courts use cause in fact to examine the choices made by the defendant.

For example, a death in a car accident can be attributed to many factors. In certain events, the crash was nothing more than bad luck or reckless behavior on the part of the victim. On the other hand, there are many auto collisions or slip and fall lawsuits in which the accident is attributed to the negligence of one or more persons.

The only way you can separate the difference between the two types of accidents is by establishing a cause-and-effect relationship. Consequently, causation produces the central element of negligence, which links the defendant’s wrongdoing to the harm of the plaintiff.

4. Proximate Cause

Next, it must be proven that the breach of duty was the proximate cause of the harm suffered by the injured person. In New York, this means that the plaintiff can only seek damages if the negligence is a substantial factor in causing the incident that led to the injury. It does not have to be the only factor—it just has to be a substantial one. 

For example, a driver might have changed lanes without signaling before being hit by another driver from behind. However, if that other driver hits the non-signaling driver in the rear thirty seconds after the non-signaling driver made it safely into the other driver’s lane, the non-signaling driver might have been negligent for failing to signal, but his/her negligence was not a substantial factor in causing the collision. In other words, it was not a proximate cause of the collision.

5. Damages

Finally, the fifth element of negligence involves damages. Damages are the legal term for any financial compensation tied to pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, lost income, or money spent on medical treatment.

You are entitled to damages if you were injured in a personal injury case because of the negligence of one or more persons. However, before you receive damages that can cover medical bills and lost wages, you need to prove negligence using the five elements of negligence.

Proving Negligence

As you can see, the five elements of negligence are closely intertwined and are critical to any personal injury lawsuit. If you were injured in an accident and believe that your situation contains all these elements, then you may be able to receive monetary compensation for the harm you suffered.

If you’re not sure whether you can satisfy all five of these elements, you should still speak with a personal injury lawyer. The attorneys at Greenberg & Stein will be able to help identify the relevant elements and tell you what legal recourse may be available to you.

What Qualifies as Gross Negligence?

Gross negligence is “a conscious and voluntary disregard of the need to use reasonable care, which is likely to cause foreseeable grave injury or harm to persons, property, or both.” For this reason, gross negligence is considered a more extreme and severe type of negligence. It is conduct that is extreme when compared to ordinary negligence, which is simply defined as “a failure to exercise reasonable care.”

When dealing with personal injury cases, you will notice that most lawsuits involve either the term ordinary negligence or gross negligence. It is important to remind people who work outside the legal field that there is a stark difference between the two types of negligence. They are not interchangeable.

Negligence is the failure to exercise the level of care and caution that an ordinary person would use in similar circumstances. As a result, negligence generally involves a careless mistake or inattention that contributed to the injury.

On the other hand, gross negligence is a deliberate and reckless behavior that completely disregards the safety and reasonable treatment of others. Consequently, it is treated differently in the court of law with the potential for a harsher punishment.

When you keep in mind that gross negligence is the most severe form of negligence, you can understand that it does not come into play in every personal injury case. But the matter is worth pursuing if there was an extreme indifference or reckless disregard for the safety of others on the part of the other party.

The most noteworthy difference between gross and ordinary negligence is that the more extreme version involves willful behavior that contributed to the injuries. Those that act irresponsibly and recklessly enough to pose this type of safety risk to others, and deliberately cause their injuries, deserve a harsher punishment.

Regardless of the type of negligence, both versions of the legal term represent a fundamental disregard for responsibility that must directly cause harm to another person, property, or both.

Greenberg & Stein—Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys

Every personal injury case is different, but they all require a personalized approach and thorough investigation to ensure the five elements that prove negligence are present. The personal injury attorneys at Greenberg & Stein have more than 75 years of combined experience and will fight to make sure you receive the compensation you deserve. 

If you’ve been injured due to the fault of another person or business, don’t hesitate to reach out. We offer free, 24/7 legal consultations and can walk you through the legal options available to you following your injury in New York City. Contact us today.