The Legal Requirements to Successfully Recover Compensation
When you are hurt or suffer an illness because of someone else’s actions, you have the right to bring a lawsuit to get monetary payment for your losses. Though you can always bring a claim based on the intentionally harmful conduct of others, as a practical matter, most personal injury claims are based on a legal theory of negligence. What is negligence? What must you prove in court to successfully establish negligence and win a verdict for damages?
What Is Negligence?
The laws establishing the elements of a claim for negligence are found in the “common law,” judge-made law written in legal opinions over hundreds of years. To successfully prove negligence, you must show that:
- The defendant (person from whom you seek compensation) failed to act as a reasonable person would under the circumstances
- The defendant’s failure to act reasonably caused an accident or event
- You suffered actual losses because of the accident or event
What Is the Standard of Care in a Negligence Claim?
The duty to act reasonably, also known as the “standard of care” applies to all persons in society in all their actions, whether it’s driving a car, maintaining property, designing or manufacturing a product or providing a safe work environment. There is no written law anywhere that specifically defines what constitutes “reasonable” behavior. Instead, that determination is made on a case-by-case basis by the jury. As a general rule, juries are typically asked to rule on whether the defendant’s actions were consistent with those of an “average person of ordinary prudence.”
How is Causation Established in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
As the law of personal injury has developed, two different types of causation have evolved—actual cause and proximate cause. Both must be established to succeed with a personal injury claim.
Actual cause, also known as “but for” cause, requires that the plaintiff (person seeking compensation) prove that, had the defendant not breached the duty of care, the accident would not have happened, or the injury would not have been sustained. Actual cause is typically easy to establish—examples include a motorist who runs a red light, a property owner who fails to remove ice or snow from a sidewalk or a manufacturer who uses substandard components in a product.
Without the further requirement of proximate cause, though, negligence may be found too easily and too often. Proximate cause also requires that the accident or injury be “reasonably foreseeable as a consequence of the breach of duty at the time of the accident.
Suppose that a motorist runs a red light and collides with another vehicle. A jury will likely find it reasonably foreseeable that the failure to stop could lead to a collision. However, if the other motorist loses control, careens into a gas station, runs over a gas pump and starts a fire that burns down a city block, the motorist who ran the red light may not be liable for the loss of the Picasso hanging on the wall of one of the loft apartments at the end of the block. It will, however, be up to the jury to determine whether that outcome was reasonably foreseeable.
What Are Actual Losses?
As a general rule, this prohibits a plaintiff from recovering for losses that are covered by insurance or otherwise paid. It also prevents recovery when any property lost has no value. If your health or motor vehicle insurance reimburses you for all your losses, you cannot recover those same losses from the defendant in a personal injury lawsuit.
Contact the Proven Personal Injury Lawyers at Bailey & Galyen
At the law offices of Bailey & Galyen, we understand the devastating impact any type of personal injury can have on every part of your life. We’ll aggressively protect your rights throughout the legal process, acting as your intermediary with insurance companies and as your voice in all meetings, hearings and legal proceedings. Contact us by e-mail or 844-402-2992 call our offices at one of the convenient locations listed below. Our phones are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.