What Are the 4 Elements of Negligence in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

4 elements of negligence

Have you been injured due to someone else’s careless actions? If so, you may have a personal injury case. But proving negligence takes more than just pointing fingers. There are four specific legal elements every injured person must establish.

At Onward Injury Law, we’ve handled hundreds of personal injury cases. We understand the challenges you’re up against. Our attorneys want to help you understand exactly what goes into building a strong negligence claim.

Duty of Care: The Foundation of Any Negligence Claim

The first element seems simple enough – the defendant owed you a duty of care. But what does that mean?

A duty of care is a legal obligation to act reasonably and not put others at risk. Doctors owe this duty to patients. Drivers owe this duty to others on the road. Property owners owe this duty to anyone lawfully on their property.

But duty alone isn’t enough. For example, a driver may generally owe a duty to others on the road. But if that driver hits a pedestrian darting across a highway at night, wearing dark clothes, they may not have breached their duty.

The key is foreseeability. Could the defendant reasonably anticipate their actions could harm others? If so, they owed a duty to act with reasonable care.

Breach of Duty: Falling Short of the Standard

Next, you must show the defendant’s actions fell short of their duty. They failed to act with reasonable care and skill. Their conduct was negligent.

This is often the most hotly disputed element. The defense will argue there was no breach at all. They’ll claim the defendant acted reasonably under the circumstances.

For example, let’s say you slip and fall on a wet floor in a store. The store may argue they had reasonable policies in place to clean spills quickly. You’ll need to show how the store breached their duty, perhaps by failing to put up a wet floor sign.

The key is proving the defendant’s conduct fell below the applicable standard of care. Your attorney can bring in experts to establish negligence.

Causation: Connecting Breach to Injury

Proving breach isn’t enough. You must also establish a causal link between the defendant’s negligence and your injuries. This involves two aspects – cause-in-fact and proximate cause.

Cause-in-fact means your injury wouldn’t have happened “but-for” the defendant’s negligence. For example, you wouldn’t have been in a car accident but for the other driver running a red light.

Proximate cause means the defendant’s actions were closely tied enough to your injury to justify liability. For instance, a vehicle defect may cause a crash, but if the driver was drunk, their actions likely supersede, or become more important to the case, than the defect.

Causation often involves complex legal and scientific arguments. An experienced attorney can help you establish this vital element.

Damages: Quantifying Your Injuries

Finally, you must prove you suffered actual harm from the defendant’s negligence. This typically means economic and non-economic damages:

  • Economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages, and other tangible losses. These are relatively straightforward to quantify. We can sum up your past and future medical bills, calculate lost income, and document property damage.
  • Non-economic damages like pain and suffering are more difficult to put a dollar figure on. But insurance adjusters can award compensation for the often profound impact injuries have on your life and relationships.

With our network of doctors, vocational experts, and other specialists, our attorneys can help fully account for the harm you’ve suffered.

Establishing Liability: Proving All Four Elements

We’ve just covered the four key elements every personal injury plaintiff must prove: duty, breach, causation, and damages. But liability is not established until you prove all four elements. The burden falls entirely on the plaintiff to make their case.

At Onward Injury Law, our personal injury attorneys take a comprehensive approach to building a strong negligence claim. We will:

  • Dig deep to investigate the facts to establish the defendant’s duty and how they breached it
  • Work with medical experts to prove not just what happened but how and why, locking down cause-in-fact
  • Consider alternative causes and defenses the defendant might raise.
  • Quantify past and future medical costs, lost income, property damage, and all other tangible losses
  • Fully account for harder-to-measure non-economic damages like pain and suffering

With strategic legal advocacy and compelling evidence, our attorneys can establish liability by proving breach of duty, causation, harm, and damages.

Start Building a Strong Case for Negligence Today

Proving negligence requires in-depth investigation, skilled legal advocacy, and compelling evidence. Unfortunately, this burden falls entirely on the you as the plaintiff. The defense will look for any weakness to avoid liability.

When you partner with us, we can build a strong claim together. Onward Injury Law has recovered millions for the injured and their families. We know what it takes to prove negligence – and get results.

If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to someone else’s carelessness, contact us today for a free consultation. We’ll thoroughly review the details of your case and help determine your best path forward. You deserve justice. Let our team fight to get it for you.

Author Bio

Josh Rohrscheib

Joshua Rohrscheib is the Owner of Onward Injury Law, a Central Illinois personal injury law firm. With more than 17 years of experience in injury law, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of legal matters, including car accidents, trucking accidents, construction accidents, medical malpractice, nursing home abuse, and other personal injury cases.

Josh received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois College of Law and is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named among the “Top 40 Under 40” in 2019 by The National Trial Lawyers and a “Rising Star” in 2019 by Super Lawyers.

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