What is Negligence?

In most personal injury lawsuits, the basis for holding a person or company legally liable for any injuries stems from the theory of negligence.

Generally, if a person acts carelessly and causes you an injury, that person will be held legally liable for the harm you experienced. This way of assessing and determining fault is used in most lawsuits that involve an accident or injury, whether it is a car accident, slip-and-fall case or another type of accident.

Basic Elements of a Negligence Claim

To win a personal injury lawsuit, negligence must be proven by the plaintiff through the following four elements:


  • 1. Duty: The defendant owed you a legal duty.
  • 2. Breach: The defendant breached the legal duty by acting or not acting in a certain manner.
  • 3. Causation: The defendant’s actions or inaction led to your injury.
  • 4. Damages: You were harmed or injured due to the actions of the defendant.


Below is more information about each element of negligence.


The first step in a negligence claim is to determine whether the plaintiff owed you a ‘legal duty of care.’ In some cases, the relationship between you and the defendant could create a legal duty. For example, a physician owes you, the patient, a legal duty to provide competent medical care. Or the defendant car driver may owe you a legal duty of care to stop when you are in a crosswalk.

Breach of Duty

The court will consider whether the defendant breached the duty of care by doing or not doing something that a reasonably prudent person would have done in the same situation. The term ‘reasonably prudent person’ is a well-established legal standard that represents how a typical person would usually act in a certain situation. To put it simply, the defendant will probably be found negligent if a typical person who knew what the defendant knew at the time would have realized that someone could be injured by to his or her actions/inactions.


You must next show that the negligence of the defendant caused your injuries. It is possible for someone to behave negligently without that behavior leading to your injuries. For instance, it would be unreasonable to sue a person who was texting and driving for a minor car accident that happened on the other side of the street. It was not his negligence that led to the accident or injuries.

Another key aspect here is whether the defendant should have been able to foresee that his actions could lead to injury. If the actions of the defendant caused you injuries through a random coincidence, the court would likely rule the injury was unforeseeable. The defendant would likely not be found liable in this case.


This element means the court must compensate you for your injury. This is usually done through financial compensation for common expenses, including medical costs, rehabilitation, lost wages, loss of normal life, court costs, attorney fees, and pain and suffering. Determining the proper amount of compensation for pain and suffering is the major point of contention in many personal injury lawsuits.

Also, in some accidents, both you and the defendant may have acted in a negligent manner, but one party was more at fault. Car accidents often fall into this category. States have different standards for what level of fault you can have in an accident and still collect damages. Some states require you to be less than 50% at fault to collect, while others may allow you to be more than 50% at fault to collect damages.

Your financial award is then reduced according to your degree of fault, as determined by the court. For example, if you have $10,000 in personal injuries in a car accident and are found to have been 50% at fault, in some states your financial award would be $5,000.


Proving the other party was negligent in the accident that led to your injuries is the key to collecting compensation. To ensure that you obtain the maximum possible award, it is important to consult an experienced and skilled personal injury attorney in your area. It is also important to work with an attorney that is highly experienced in the type of accident you have suffered.