Negligence describes a scenario wherein a person acts carelessly, which results in an injury or property damage to another party. It’s perhaps the most common of the personal injury lawsuits, but it’s also one of the most difficult to prove in a court of law.
What Constitutes Negligence?
Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another. The most difficult part of negligence cases is determining reasonable conduct. For example, a driver must exercise the same care that a “reasonable person” would in the same situation, which includes driving according to traffic laws and being aware of other drivers and pedestrians. If a driver fails to wear his glasses and injures someone, they can be considered negligent because a “reasonable person” wouldn’t forget to wear their glasses. Reasonable conduct is the basic legal standard for figuring out who is at fault. To ascertain reasonable conduct, both parties must analyze the circumstances of the incident and determine what a reasonable person would have done in the situation.
Negligence and the Burden of Proof
In claims that are a direct result of accidents or injuries, the burden of proof lies on the plaintiff. To win a case and prove negligence on behalf of the defendant, a plaintiff must prove duty, breach, causation, and damage. This essentially states that the defendant had a certain duty, broke the responsibilities of the duty, caused an injury or property damage, and are liable for damages.
Criminal vs. Civil Cases and Negligence
One aspect that makes winning a negligence case easier than a criminal case is that you don’t have to prove anything without a shadow of a doubt, or 99 percent correct. Instead, you only need to show a preponderance of the evidence. This means that if a plaintiff can show that the defendant caused 51 percent of the negligence, they are at fault.
Contributory Negligence and Comparative Negligence
Many states now have a more defined way to determine who was at fault. Known as contributory and comparative negligence, these concepts allow a jury or judge to put different portions of fault on both the defendant and the plaintiff.
Contributory negligence is best used to describe the conduct of a person who creates an unreasonable risk on their own. If a person doesn’t act reasonably responsible and they suffer an injury, they can be held entirely or partially responsible for their own injury.
Comparative negligence is an approach to a case of contributory negligence. In comparative negligence claims, each party’s level of negligence is weighed against the other’s. This differs from traditional negligence law which didn’t award plaintiffs for damages if they were at fault in any way that contributed to their injuries. To reduce harsh, one-way settlements, courts can use comparative negligence.
There are two approaches to comparative negligence. The most popular is modified comparative negligence. If determined to be more than 50 percent at fault, the plaintiff is awarded no compensation, even if the defendant is still proven to have a hand in the injury or property damage. Pure comparative negligence is a method to divide damages. For example, if a plaintiff gets awarded $100,000, but the jury determines that they were 30 percent responsible for their own injury, the actual award goes down to $70,000.
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