Defining Negligence Under the Law

negligence slipper floor

Defining Negligence Under the Law

Negligence is the primary cause of most personal injury lawsuits in the U.S. Even though laws vary from state to state, in every state you are expected to conduct your actions in a manner that will prevent unnecessary harm or injury to other people. But exactly how does the law define negligence?


What is Negligence?

If you’ve ever been in an auto accident, you know that neither yourself nor the other drivers caused the accident on purpose. Someone overlooked something or failed to follow the rules. This is an example of negligence. According to the law, we all have a “duty of care” to make sure we don’t unnecessarily harm one another. For example, we all have a responsibility to operate motor vehicles in a safe manner. We are expected to follow applicable laws (like speed limits) and conditions like traffic and weather. If you fail to do so by, say, speeding, and cause an accident that harms someone, then you have breached your “duty of care.” You were negligent.


The 4 Main Components of Negligence

Duty of care. First, it has to be established that the at-fault party had a duty. In addition to the duty of care described in the car accident example, some others would be the duty of care a business has to keep their floor surfaces safe and non-slippery so you don’t fall. Or a company has a duty of care to make sure the products they sell you don’t harbor unexpected dangers.


Breach of duty. When a business sells a product they know has pieces that will break off and could harm you, they breach their duty of care. Or if an individual fails to act safely, for example by texting while driving, they fail their duty of care.


The breach caused the harm. However, breaching your duty of care isn’t the only component to negligence under the law. It has to be proved that the breach caused harm. For example, say a driver has consumed more than the legal limit of alcohol. That driver is one of several in a car accident caused by someone else running a red light. The drunk driver, although definitely failing to fulfill their duty of care, is not considered to be the negligent party in that accident.


Injury or harm resulted. It’s also possible to breach your duty of care, but not have it cause harm. Maybe you run a red light because you’re daydreaming and don’t see the traffic signal change. You might almost hit another car in that circumstance, causing the other driver to brake suddenly. But if they and their vehicle don’t sustain any damage or harm, you would not be considered negligent under the law. Most people would consider that action negligent in the more general definition, but not legally speaking.


As you can see, negligence can be a complicated legal issue. That’s why it’s always a good idea to get legal expertise on your side in these matters. Call us if we can help.


IMAGE: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

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