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The Tort of Negligence: What Are the Elements of Negligent Torts?

Car accidents in California are governed under negligence law. Under tort law, there are set of laws that aim to redress wrongful conduct carried out on a person and provide them with relief for the losses suffered. There are three types of torts: negligent torts, intentional torts, and strict liability torts. Let’s explore the negligent torts and their elements with California car accident lawyer Michael Ehline at Ehline Law and our other resident personal injury attorneys.

What Are the Elements of Negligent Torts?

Negligence arises from statutory violation, and in a negligence claim lawsuit, if you wish to recover compensation for the damages suffered in an accident, it is crucial to establish or prove the five elements of negligent torts, including the following.

Duty of Care

The first crucial element of a negligence case is whether or not the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty of care. The duty of care arises when, under the law, there is a relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff, where the defendant must act like a reasonable person would and not cause harm to the plaintiff through their actions.

The judge determines whether such a relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff existed. Suppose a defendant was driving in their car and violated a traffic light resulting in an accident causing injuries to the plaintiff. In that case, the question arises whether a duty of care existed.

Since the defendant was driving a car on public roads, the court will find that the legal duty exists to follow all traffic laws, and the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff.

Breach of Duty of Care

Once the plaintiff proves the duty of care, they must prove that the defendant breached that duty of care. In the previous example of a defendant violating a traffic light, the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer must prove that the defendant did not exercise reasonable care and violated the traffic light.

In personal injury lawsuits, the jury decides whether the defendant breached the duty of care toward the plaintiff. In the example above, the jury will determine whether a reasonably prudent person would do what the defendant did under the same circumstances.

Cause in Fact of the Injury

After establishing the breach of duty, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach led to the plaintiff’s injuries. If the defendant did not act the way they did, the plaintiff’s injury would’ve not occurred.

The other injured driver in the example above can establish this element by showing that if the defendant’s negligent act of violating the traffic laws didn’t happen, the accident wouldn’t have occurred, and the plaintiff would’ve not suffered any injuries.

Proximate Cause of Harm

This refers to the extent of the defendant’s responsibility in the personal injury case. In a negligence case, a defendant is only liable for damages they could’ve foreseen through their negligence. When an accident results in damages outside what the defendant could’ve foreseen, the plaintiff cannot prove that their actions were the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damages.

In the car accident example illustrated above, the other injured driver needs to establish a proximate cause by indicating that the defendant should’ve foreseen the harm of violating the traffic laws. However, if the damages suffered are much more remote to the defendant’s negligent act, the plaintiff may be less likely to prove the proximate cause of harm.

Suppose a car accident causes vehicle components to scatter on the road, and another vehicle runs over them, causing damage to their steering axle. A few days later, that driver takes their car out to a grocery store, and because of the damaged steering axle, they crash into another vehicle, causing injuries to both parties.

Although the defendant’s actions resulted in a damaged steering axle of another vehicle, it’s more likely that they didn’t foresee such a series of events. The injured victims would be less likely to prove the proximate causation to recover damages.

Damages and Harm

In a personal injury case, the plaintiff must establish that they suffered physical injury or damages due to the defendant’s negligence. Although the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care, it is not enough to have a valid case without the plaintiff suffering any injuries or damages from the defendant’s negligence.

Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claim

It is important to file personal injury claims within a specific time frame to fight for compensation. Every state has its statute of limitations that establishes the maximum time that parties have to initiate legal proceedings from the date of an alleged offense. 

For example, the statute of limitations for a car accident claim is two years in California, but in Florida, it is four years following the date of the incident.

Contributory and Comparative Negligence

Sometimes in an accident, both parties may share some responsibility, known as contributory negligence or comparative negligence.

Contributory negligence is when a plaintiff’s negligence contributed to the accident, and in some states, it may be enough to bar the plaintiff from making any monetary recoveries.

Comparative negligence is when a plaintiff’s negligence reduces the proportion of damages recoverable from the defendant.

In many personal injury cases, the defendant argues that the plaintiff was also partially responsible for the accident as they acted in a way that caused them harm.

Damages You Can Recover in Negligence Claims

Every case is unique, and an attorney will be better able to guide you on the types of damages you can recover in your personal injury case. Generally, there are economic damages and non-economic damages injured victims can pursue.

  • Economic or special damages are financial losses directly associated with the negligent party’s actions and include medical bills, lost wages, and property damage.
  • Non-economic damages are damages arising from a subjective injury, including pain and suffering, emotional trauma, mental anguish, and reduced quality of life.

Non-economic damages are much more challenging to calculate since they do not have a dollar value, unlike economic damages.

Do You Need an Attorney for Your Negligence Case?

All the elements of negligence may be present in your personal injury case, but it takes an experienced personal injury lawyer to build your case and prove the elements of negligence. 

Other parts of the lawsuit are equally as important as proving the elements, such as following the legal process, calculating the damages, and handling the at-fault’s insurance company.

A skilled attorney can help gather the evidence and increase your chances of recovering maximum compensation.

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If you suffered injuries in a car accident that was not your fault, contact us to find a lawyer who will offer you a free consultation, as you may be eligible for compensation.


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