Most personal injury claims arise due to the negligence of another party. An injured party has a negligence claim when someone fails to meet the standard of care expected of them. When a driver neglects to pay attention or a store owner neglects to maintain safe premises, their failure to exercise caution can harm others. This is called breach of duty.
The concept of negligence and the role of breach of duty in a personal injury claim is essential for recovering the compensation you deserve.
What Is Negligence?
At its core, negligence is a failure to exercise reasonable care in specific circumstances. Negligence has a slightly different definition under the law than in common usage. One may be negligent, either by neglecting to take certain actions or acting recklessly. When individuals’ negligent actions lead to harm, they may be held legally accountable for the resulting damages.
Elements of a Negligence Claim
A negligence claim consists of four key elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. An injured plaintiff must prove that all four elements are present in order to bring a successful negligence claim.
Duty of Care
The duty of care is the standard of care a reasonable person would exercise under the circumstances. For instance, drivers have a duty of care to remain vigilant, drive with caution, and follow all traffic laws. This duty is determined from an objective standard. That means that the duty of care is not based on the defendant’s perception of their duty.
Breach of Duty
Breach of duty is key to a negligence claim. When someone fails to follow the standard of care expected of them under the circumstances, they have breached their duty of care. In the above example, a driver who is texting while driving or driving under the influence breaches their duty of care.
It is not enough that someone breached their duty of care. If the injury is unrelated to the breach, the plaintiff has no claim. The plaintiff must show that the defendant’s breach of duty is the actual cause, and the most likely (proximate) cause, of their injuries.
Finally, a plaintiff must show that there are damages. This means that the defendant’s breach of duty caused some injury. Damages are the plaintiff’s financial compensation for physical, emotional, and financial injuries. Plaintiffs can claim economic damages for losses like medical bills and property damages. Plaintiffs can also pursue non-economic damages for emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life.
Although all four elements are required, negligence claims often turn on breach of duty.
Who Owes a Duty of Care?
Everyone owes a basic duty of care: to act as a reasonable person would under the circumstances. Property owners owe a duty of care to those who visit their premises. Professionals are held to a higher standard of care that is proportional to their training. For instance, a surgeon is expected to know and follow surgical protocols.
One can breach a duty that is expected of someone else. When an entity (person or organization) employs or contracts with individuals, these individuals are agents of the original entity. As long as the individuals act in the scope of their employment, their employers may be vicariously liable for a breach of duty. For instance, if a grocery store owner has a duty of care to maintain safe premises, the store is liable when an employee fails to clean up a spill.
When Is the Duty of Care Breached?
One’s duty of care is breached when they fail to meet the expected standard of care. Individuals often breach their duty when they fail to do something a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances. For example, a property owner breaches her duty of care to maintain safe premises when she (or her employee) fails to clean up spills and other hazards. A driver also breaches his duty of care when he fails to stop at a red light.
One can also breach their duty of care through their actions. This is where the legal definition of negligence diverges from the common definition. While negligence implies inaction, someone can breach their duty by acting in a way that a reasonable person would not have. For instance, texting while driving can constitute a breach of duty. Taking a risky course of action or deviating from surgical protocol can also be a breach.
Contact a Rock Hill Personal Injury Attorney to Learn More
If you are injured due to others’ negligence, seeking counsel from a lawyer is helpful. The burden of proof for negligence claims is on the plaintiff. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you gather evidence to prove the elements of a negligence claim, including breach of duty.
Reach out to Elrod Pope Accident & Injury Attorneys at (803) 784 4984 to schedule a free consultation with our Rock Hill personal injury lawyer.