After being injured in an accident, the first thing on most people’s minds is healing. The second is compensation.
You hear about people winning personal injury lawsuits due to negligence, but what exactly is negligence? According to the Law.com dictionary, negligence is a “failure to exercise the care toward others which a reasonable or prudent person would do in the circumstances, or taking action which such a reasonable person would not.” Negligence, by this definition, is separate from intentional acts like assault, though negligence can result in physical harm.
A prime example of negligence would be a business owner who doesn’t bother fixing broken steps leading to their business, and a customer or employee trips and falls. The business owner will probably be held liable for negligence for failing to repair the steps. Being aware of a problem and not getting it fixed is usually grounds to prove negligence.
It would be different if a customer wandered into an unauthorized area of the property and got hurt. The customer could still likely collect on a personal injury claim filed against the business’ insurance company. However, it would be hard to prove negligence if the accident happened in an area the customer had to trespass to access.
The difference between settling for compensation provided through a personal injury claim and proving negligence in a lawsuit is substantial. Proving negligence in court will likely result in more compensation.
Proving negligence in court isn’t simple. To prove negligence, you must establish proof for five elements: duty, breach of duty, cause in fact, proximate cause, and damages. Let’s look at these one by one:
Did the person you’re suing have a duty toward you at the time of the accident? For example, if you were injured in a car accident when a driver ran a red light, the other driver had a duty to stop at the red light.
Breach of duty
Continuing with the same example, the next question is if the other driver breached their duty. Breach of duty is determined when a person fails to exercise reasonable care in fulfilling their duty. In this case, the driver running the red light did not exercise reasonable care when they ran the red light, and therefore, the driver was in breach of their duty.
Cause in fact
You must prove that the negligent actions you’re suing for did cause your injuries, and those injuries would not have occurred without negligence. It’s clear that crossing an intersection on a green light wouldn’t normally result in an accident from cross-traffic. Only if the cross-traffic is breaking traffic laws would an accident occur.
The burden of proof lies with the victim. Using the example of a driver running a red light that caused severe injuries to another person, the driver’s negligence would be considered unreasonable. In this situation, it would be easy to prove that negligence led to the damages and injuries suffered by the victim. This type of case would be easily won.
However, there’s one caveat to filing a lawsuit when you can easily prove cause. Even when you can prove the other driver caused your injuries due to negligence, if you live in a no-fault state like New York, you can’t sue the other driver unless your injuries are permanent or severe. Each no-fault state defines the types of injuries you can sue for. When you can’t sue the driver at fault, the only recourse you have is to file a claim with your own insurance company.
In addition to proving the failure to exercise reasonable care, actual damages must be proven to exist. In the case of a car crash resulting in injury, that’s easy to prove.
Negligence can be proven even without awareness
A person doesn’t necessarily need to be aware of an unsafe situation for you to prove negligence. Negligence can be proven if the other person should have had a reasonable awareness of the situation that caused your injury. For instance, if the business owner didn’t know about the broken steps because they always come in through the back door, that’s not good enough. The business owner should be paying attention to the steps leading to their business.
When you’re injured, pursue every remedy you can
Being injured in an accident takes time, money, and energy to heal. Pursue every remedy you have access to, but consult with a lawyer before signing on any dotted lines.