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Proving Fault: Elements of Negligence in a Personal Injury Case

Venice Beach Sunbather LawsuitMany prospective personal injury plaintiffs – in cases ranging from auto accidents to dog bites to premises liability – ask the same question: how can I establish fault in my case? Understanding the basic elements of negligence and fault can help plaintiffs make informed judgments about whether or not to proceed with an accident injury claim.

Assigning blame for injuries

Whenever a serious injury is suffered, it is only natural for the victim and his or her loved ones to want justice, accountability and financial compensation from those determined to be at fault. The legal theory of negligence provides the framework for assigning legal responsibility in such circumstances. Fortunately, the pieces of the puzzle are relatively straightforward, though marshaling factual evidence to show that they have been met can often be a challenge.

The element of duty

An important first task in reviewing a negligence claim is to see if the allegedly responsible party owed the victim a duty of care under the law. With regard to formal relationships such as one involving a patient and physician, such duties are easy to demonstrate. However, even where the parties involved are not so tightly connected, there are many instances in which an individual has a general duty to act with a reasonably prudent degree of care toward others. Motorists sharing the roads would be a broadly applicable example of such a generalized duty.

Breaching the duty

Once it is shown that a duty of care did exist, a plaintiff in a personal injury matter must show that the defendant acted in a way that represented a breach of that duty. The key here will be whether or not the accused individual acted as a reasonably prudent individual would have under similar factual circumstances. Would the average person have appreciated the risk to others posed by their behavior? Anyone who disregards the likelihood of harm and moves forward anyway could well be found negligent.

Causal connection

The third step in the process of analyzing negligence and fault is whether the breach of an existing duty of care did in fact produce the injuries claimed. Negligent behavior alone, without a causal link to actual injuries, will not form the basis of a claim for compensation, no matter how egregious it might have been. Foreseeability of harm can also enter into assessments of this type, in that a defendant may not be held legally responsible if the resulting harm to another is attributable to a random, natural occurrence rather than his or her conduct.

Value of damages

Lastly, in order to concretely prove fault and prevail in a claim for compensation, it is necessary to show that actual harm resulted from the events at issue. This can take the form of bodily injury, subsequent medical bills, property damage, lost wages, emotional trauma and a whole host of other types of losses for which financial recovery may be available.

Claims must be supported with strong documentary evidence and cannot be speculative in nature. The assistance of medical, occupational and other subject-matter experts often proves critical in demonstrating the true value of harm stemming from legally actionable negligence. Plaintiffs are eligible for damages even if they are found to be more than 50 percent at fault for what occurred, an important distinction not observed in numerous other jurisdictions around the country.

Los Angeles personal injury attorneys aggressively pursuing justice

Though the elements of negligence and establishing fault in California may seem fairly straightforward, amassing the proof and arguments necessary to make a successful claim for compensation is a challenging task requiring the seasoned, skilled assistance of a personal injury lawyer. At Ellis Law, we are committed to providing the legal guidance and technical know-how injury victims across greater Los Angeles deserve. If you have been harmed by another party’s carelessness and wish to pursue compensation, contact us at 1-800-INJURED.

Additional “negligence & fault” resources

  1. California Legislature, Civil Code §1714(a), https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=CIV&sectionNum=1714.
  2. California Legislature, CIVIL CODE – CIV DIVISION 3. OBLIGATIONS [1427 – 3272.9], https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=1714.01.&lawCode=CIV