What is negligence in the context of personal injury cases?

What is negligence in the context of personal injury cases?

September 7, 2023

The word negligence gets thrown around casually, but it has a specific legal definition in the context of personal injury cases. Proving negligence requires showing that the defendant didn’t behave in a way that a prudent person would under similar circumstances.

Professionals must uphold the standards of their respective fields to avoid malpractice lawsuits. For example, physicians should use reasonable care when treating patients.

Duty of care

While the everyday definition of negligence may seem straightforward enough – like a chef overcooking salmon or an absent-minded shopper who burns their vegetable toast – attorneys and judges have a more complicated legal definition. In personal injury cases, the question of whether someone is negligent is often defined by comparing their actions to how a reasonable person would act in similar circumstances. This standard helps personal injury lawyers determine if someone has violated their duty of care, a key element in a negligence claim.

The first step in proving negligence is to establish that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. Depending on the case, this can be relatively easy to do. For example, most people owe a duty to other drivers and pedestrians to obey traffic laws, and a store owner owes a duty to maintain their property in a way that is safe for customers.

Once the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer proves that the defendant owed them a duty of care, they must then show how this duty was breached. This step requires establishing exactly how the defendant failed to meet this duty of care, and that their failure directly caused the injuries or harm in question. This connection is called causation, and it must be fairly direct. For example, if a driver ran a red light, this is a clear violation of their duty of care.

Breach of duty

A person has a legal duty to use reasonable care in all interactions with others. This obligation can be based on custom, legal relationships, a personal commitment or a sense of morality. For example, drivers have a legal duty to obey traffic laws, and doctors have a legal duty to uphold the standards of medical practice. If someone breaches their legal duty of care and causes you harm, you can pursue damages in a personal injury case.

To prove that a defendant breached their duty of care, you must show that they failed to act like a reasonable person would under similar circumstances. This is an objective standard that juries apply to determine if someone was negligent. For example, if a driver runs a red light and hurts you, they have violated their duty of care.

You also need to show that the defendant’s breach of their legal duty caused your injuries. This part of the analysis is called “proximate cause.” For instance, a property owner has a duty to maintain their property in a safe condition. If the property has a faulty deck that falls and injures guests, the owner may be found to have breached their duty of care. Proving this element is typically harder than establishing that the defendant owed you a duty of care. For this reason, it is important to have an experienced personal injury attorney on your side.


Ultimately, the reason why personal injury cases are so common is that negligence is an action or inaction that causes harm to other people. The law’s definition of negligence is that it’s when an individual fails to behave with the level of care a reasonable person would under similar circumstances. In order to be successful in a claim for damages, victims must prove that the defendant’s actions caused their injuries.

Proving causation is not always simple in personal injury cases. The plaintiff’s lawyer must establish that the defendant breached their duty of care, and that this breach directly caused the victim’s injuries. The breach can be either an affirmative act or an omission, and the latter is particularly common in premises liability cases and medical malpractice claims.

The plaintiff’s lawyer must also prove that the victim’s injuries could have been avoided had the defendant not engaged in their negligent actions. This is called “factual cause.” For example, a driver who runs a red light and hits another car clearly causes the other driver’s injuries. Factual cause is not always straightforward, however, and requires the assistance of expert witnesses in some cases.

Other elements of the legal definition of negligence include actual and proximate cause. Actual cause is the direct cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The proximate cause is a legal rule that limits the chain of causation to those actions that would have foreseeable injuries to foreseeable plaintiffs.


To be awarded damages in a personal injury case based on negligence, you must prove that you suffered some type of loss that is directly caused by the defendant’s breach of duty. The loss is generally a financial one such as medical bills, lost wages, or even pain and suffering. It may also be an emotional loss like anxiety or depression. Alternatively, physical harm such as scarring, disfigurement, or even the loss of life can be considered damages.

The first thing that you must prove is that the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty. This is often based on the relationship between the parties, such as a doctor owing a patient a duty to treat them with reasonable care and caution, or a landlord owes a tenant a duty to maintain the premises in a safe manner. It can also be a general law duty, like driving on the road with reasonable care and attention.

The next thing that you must prove is that the defendant breached that duty. This is generally done by showing that they acted carelessly or without regard for their actions, or in other words, that they exhibited a lack of care that another person of ordinary prudence would have exercised in the same circumstances. Gross negligence is considered to be more than simple carelessness, and essentially means that the defendant displayed an extreme disregard for their safety or that of others.

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