ELEMENTS OF A NEGLIGENCE CAUSE OF ACTION
You've been hurt in an accident and for the first time, you are facing the decision of whether or not to bring a lawsuit. For most, this is new territory as most conflicts in life are handled between people without going to court. Unfortunately, some incidents involving injuries can only be resolved through a suit. Of course, seeking the help of an attorney in providing expertise is a recommended step. However, as with most things in life, it is always best to have some basic knowledge. In deciding whether or not to bring a suit in negligence, there are four elements of the cause of action to consider.
The first element of negligence is the duty owed by the person you believe should be sued. In some cases, such as when the person has violated a statute meant to prevent the harm, the question of duty is clear and straightforward. People have a responsibility to follow the law to avoid harming others. In other situations, the question becomes a bit more subjective. The duty comes down to determining what the so-called reasonable man in the same or similar circumstances should have done. This can become a point of argument for a jury, as it is a question involving common experiences. In some cases, expert witnesses may be necessary for proving this element due to nuances of what is considered the duty of care in different jobs or situations.
The second element is call breach of duty. This element usually goes with the same type of proof of the element of duty. The diversion from the duty of care owed proves this element. If it is the duty of care to follow driving statutes and regulations, and violation is a breach of duty. If one has a duty to act as the reasonable man in the same or similar circumstances, diversion from that standard is a breach.
The third element can be the most difficult to understand and prove in some situations. This is the element of proximate cause. It is the link between the breach of duty and the damages being claimed by that breach. In some situations, like when one driver rear-ends another vehicle, the element of proximate cause is clear and obvious. In other situations, like a chain of events caused by a breach leading to damages, proximate cause is much more difficult to argue.
The famous case about proximate cause was Palsgraf vs. Long Island Railroad, which helped define proximate cause for future civil case. In this case, agents of a railroad breached the duty of care while trying to help a passenger on a rail car, causing the passenger to drop a package with fireworks. The fireworks went off causing a scale in the station to fall on a woman causing injury. The lower court held in favor of the woman against the railroad, but the court of appeals reversed. The court determined that proximate cause required some foreseeability of the harm caused by the person who breached duty.
The final element of negligence is damages. Harm as a result of a breach of duty is not usually the issue. The reason damages become a substantial point of contention in lawsuits is in determining the level associated with the breach. In some suits, the breach of duty and proximate cause are not in contention. The parties both agree that the person caused harm. The question is the the amount of harm which will be compensated at trial by money. Direct medical bills and lost wages can be somewhat easy to calculate, but damages like pain and suffering and future physical or mental disability become much more difficult to determine and up for argument. Additionally, as many people have prior medical problems damages comes to separating out what is the responsibility of the person who breached duty.
A lawyer will know the intricate details of everything associated with a lawsuit but it is important to know the basics. Before seeking a lawyer consider the basic elements of a negligence suit, and during the litigation continue considering the basic elements. It can make the difference.