Negligence: when duty leads to damages, injury
Attorney Joe Richardson with Legal Learning about negligence, and how to know when damages may justify a lawsuit.
When claiming negligence, be sure that the person an injured party seeks to blame actually has a duty that is owed to the aggrieved person
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines negligence (which is a key tort) as “failure to take the care that a responsible person usually takes,” or a “lack of normal care or attention.” From a legal standpoint, negligence is the most well-known of torts, which are civil wrongs. Whereas with contract, the duties of each party arise from their agreement with one another, with negligence, obligations arise from operation of law. The elements of negligence are generally duty, breach, causation, and damages.
Many people that consider lawsuits are seeking redress against a person because they believe the person is “negligent.” However, it is important to be sure that the person an injured party seeks to blame actually has a duty that is owed to the aggrieved person. One easy example are vehicle accidents.
As a driver, you have a duty to others on the road, and to others that would be affected by your driving (like pedestrians), to follow the rules of the road. If you are speeding, that could be a breach of the duty to drive safely (with “safe” being defined as driving within the speed limit). If an accident results, the aggrieved person potentially has a claim if they can show that the speeding caused their injury.
The fact that an accident occurred, in and of itself, does not mean fault belongs to just one party. A person claiming damages may have contributed to the incident themselves (comparative negligence). Therefore, the aggrieved party, or even a third party, may have some liability for the incident.
As such, when people are injured, sometimes defendants are not only drivers, but (among other things) the makers of the related products (automobiles, retail products). Also, a potential claimant has to be sure that the damages claimed were suffered due to the incident. As a simple example, someone claiming a broken leg due to a car accident will not be able to recover those damages if his leg was already broken before the accident.
As a general rule, before you bring a claim related to someone’s negligence, make sure that there is a duty that was owed, and then breached, which actually caused damages that were not there before. You may discover that your potential for recovery is less clear.