Simply put, negligence occurs when a person or business fails to take proper care and that failure results in injury to another person or damage to their property. For example, suppose you walk into a business and slide on their freshly mopped floor, resulting in a fall. That business may be guilty of negligence for failing to caution you that the floor was still wet.
It seems simple enough, but there are plenty of subtleties in the law of negligence. In order to demonstrate that you have been the victim of negligence, you first have to prove that the four elements of a negligence claim are present.
First Element – Duty of Care
Did the person or business have a legal obligation to take reasonable care to ensure your safety? The duty of Care is the first element that must be present. Certainly, the business with the just mopped floor had a duty to its customers. If you are walking across a neighbor’s lawn uninvited, however, there is a strong argument that the neighbor did not have a duty of care to warn you of any potential hazards.
Second Element – Breach of Duty
The next element needed when proving a negligence claim is a breach of duty. In other words, did the person or business fail to properly inform you of the danger? Were there caution signs and cones placed around the freshly mopped area? If there were and ignored the warning and walked through the cones, there is a strong argument that they did not breach their duty of care.
On the other hand, if you borrow your neighbor’s lawn mower and they fail to properly warn you that you need a specific mix of gasoline and oil, you may be able to prove they breached the duty of care if the lawnmower backfires while you are using it.
Third Element – Causation
The third element that must be present when testing the legitimacy of a negligence claim is causation. In other words, did the business or person’s negligence caused the injury? If you already have a sprained arm when you slipped on the wet floor, the business was not responsible. Even though they failed to inform you of the danger, they didn’t cause your injury.
Causation goes a step further, however, and requires that the person causing the injury had a reasonable reason to anticipate that it will occur. Suppose you are running a 5K race. A dog wanders into the race path, and a contestant inadvertently starts a domino effect of falling runners by swerving to avoid the dog. Even if you are injured in the incident, the contestant that tried to avoid the dog would not be responsible. He had no way of anticipating that the event would happen.
Fourth Element – Damages
Finally, even if the first three elements of a negligence case are present, if you can’t prove that you have incurred actual damage, the person or business causing the accident is not liable to you. Damage can be physical injury or loss or harm done to your property. If damages can be proven, you can be compensated for the business or person’s negligence.
How to Claim Negligence
Even when all of the elements of negligence are present, you will need to provide evidence of damages in order to collect on a claim of negligence. It can be hard to think clearly immediately following an accident, but the more information you can gather the better.
If there are witnesses, get their contact information and ask them to write out a statement. As quickly as you can after the incident, write out your own summary, including all the details you can remember. If possible, snap pictures of the scene on your phone.
Carefully collect your medical records and receipts for any expenses related to your injury or replacement of your property. If you had to miss work, document the loss in pay that you encountered.
When you have been the victim of negligence, it may seem that the other party’s responsibility is pretty cut-and-dried. There are important elements that must be identified, however, that can make or break your claim. When in doubt, seek professional help from a qualified lawyer when filing your negligence claim.