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Negligence cases can be tricky to navigate. One reason for this is that in a negligence case, the burden of proof is on you as the plaintiff. In order to count as negligence, a jury or judge will evaluate your case based on several elements, which, when combined, legally constitute negligence. Thus, it’s important that your statements and evidence both factually substantiate one of the five elements of negligence: duty, breach of duty, cause in fact, proximate cause, and damage. These factors are explained in greater detail below, although it’s always good practice to consult with professional negligence lawyers who can connect these concepts to your specific case.

What constitutes “duty” in a negligence case?

Simply put, a duty is the expectation that the defendant was required to act or behave a certain way towards you. Duties are generally determined by a judge, rather than decided by a jury. One of the most common instances of a duty is the relationship between an employer and employee. For example, if you are pressing charges as a client against a professional such as a doctor, the duty could relate to how you were treated by the doctor as compared to similar professionals. Duties can apply to other company/client relationships as well, but may also extend to someone working as part of a company and a public bystander, such as a child who is hit by a postal worker. In this case, the judge would determine if it was the postal worker’s duty to drive in a safe manner while delivering mail.

What makes up a “breach of duty” in a negligence case?

While determining whether or not you’re owed a duty by the defendant is the first step in winning your negligence case, there is still more burden on you to prove that the defendant breached, or broke, that responsibility to you. Even though a judge determines what comprises a duty, the jury of your negligence case ultimately decides whether or not the defendant breached this duty. In the earlier example about the postal worker, a jury would determine whether or not the defendant was exercising reasonable care while they were performing their job. If they were texting while driving, that certainly would constitute a breach of duty, whereas if the child ran out into the street after a ball, other factors would most likely have to be considered.

How do you define “cause in fact” in negligence cases?

Another factor that will be considered during your negligence case is whether your injuries or damages are “cause in fact.” In a nutshell, “cause in fact” refers to whether or not you can trace a direct link between the defendant’s negligence and your current state. In the example about a doctor and their patient, if a botched surgery resulted in loss of feeling in your hand, that would be deemed “cause in fact.” However, if it can be proven that you couldn’t definitively trace your numbness to the surgery in question, this may be called into question. An easy way to think about this element of negligence is to think of cause and effect. Simply ask yourself, “If the defendant hadn’t done this, would my result have happened?”

What is “proximate cause” in a negligence case?

Proximate cause all boils down to whether or not the defendant could have foreseen the result of their actions, prior to their occurence. In the example with the child and postal worker, the postal worker would have to prove that they didn’t have adequate time or information to appropriately estimate the danger the child was in. This would be hard to do in a place where children often are, like a residential neighborhood or in a school zone. However, if the child was in a location not typically occupied by kids, such as in a casino parking lot, the driver may be able to prove they didn’t have proximate cause to the accident.
What count as “damages” in negligence cases?

Your final consideration when proving negligence is what counts as damage. Damages must be legally recognized, meaning your most common options are injury or property damage. Even if a judge or jury determines that your defendant did neglect their duty, if you haven’t suffered any damages from the incident, your negligence case won’t have legal standing.

While negligence cases can seem complex, breaking down each element of a negligence case, can help you understand how to create the strongest case. As always, consult with a trusted legal professional prior to pressing charges so that you have the greatest possibility of winning your negligence settlement.