How a Claim for Negligence is Proven: Four (4) Elements

If you have been injured in an accident, it may be that your accident was caused by the negligence of another person or entity.  Were you in a car accident where the other driver ran into you?  Did you slip and fall at a commercial establishment like a store or restaurant?  Did an object fall and strike you?  These are all scenarios where it is possible your injury was caused by the negligence of another party which, under Florida law, will allow you to recover compensation for your injuries if you can prove the other party was negligent.  Negligence is essentially a claim that the other person was acting carelessly or not as a reasonable, prudent person would in the same circumstances.  Although there are other claims you may be able to assert, negligence is the most common claim injured victims bring to recover for an accident and injuries that were the result of someone else's improper conduct.

Negligence is Proven Through Four Elements

“Element” is a bit of a legal term of art, but it simply means one fact.  There are four facts you have to prove to succeed on a claim for negligence.  These facts are:

  1. Duty
  2. Breach
  3. Cause
  4. Damage
personal injury


To succeed on a claim of negligence in a personal injury action, you must prove the party you are claiming was at-fault owed some type of duty to you.  Each of us has a moral obligation to act in an manner that does not cause others injury, but there are particular relationships that create a legal duty of care.  For example, the owner of a store has a duty to keep the premises reasonably safe for customers.  Fellow drivers on the road have a duty to drive in a manner that is not reckless and does not cause an accident.  Doctors owe a duty to their patients to treat their patients within the reasonable standard of medical care.  An example of someone who does not owe a duty to another might be a homeowner to an unknown trespasser who injures himself while trying to break through a window. 


Once you establish the at-fault party owed you a duty, you will need to prove he or she breached this duty.  That the fellow driver, for instance, ran a red light and struck your car.  In doing this, he breached his duty to drive carefully and in accordance with the rules of the road, i.e., the requirement to stop at a red light.  If the owner of a store allowed a huge pool of water to remain in the foyer of his store without any warning and you slipped and injured yourself as a result, the owner would have arguably breached his duty to maintain a safe premises when inviting customers into his store.


The next element you will need to prove in a personal injury action is causation, i.e., that the breach causedyour injuries.  A car accident is a perfect example.  Let's assume you have no issues with your back.  You've never suffered a back injury or received medical care to treat problems with your back.  You are then struck by another driver.  The accident causes some discs in your back to bulge and compress and you now have chronic back pain and physical limitations.  In this situation it is easy to prove the other driver's negligent driving—her breach of her duty of care to you—caused your injuries. 

However, many, many people suffer from back problems and seek treatment for it.  If you are this type of person, it will be harder to prove which back issues were pre-existing before the accident and what injuries the accident caused to your back or how it exacerbated your pre-existing issues. 

Causation can get tricky not only on the injury side of things, but also as to the conduct.  Consider the store owner who, instead of leaving a puddle of water unmarked and providing no warning, ensures his foyer is mopped dry every 15 minutes and keeps a “wet floor” sign out, but you were texting and not paying attention when you stepped on a fresh puddle and tripped?  In this situation, was the owner's alleged negligent conduct the proximate cause of your injury?  In situations like these (and most personal injury actions have both good and bad facts on either side) it can be difficult to prove causation, which is where an experienced personal injury attorney, like the attorneys at Taylor, Warren, Weidner, Hancock & Barnes, can help you gather the right evidence and take the right steps to ensure you put forth the best case possible to prove your claim for negligence.  An attorney can also make sure you understand the types of damages you can recover and how Florida's comparative negligence standard works. 

Damage (Monetary)

Typically the mere existence of damage is the easiest element to prove in a personal injury negligence claim, particularly if you suffered an injury.  Under our civil justice system, the way we make a person whole again after we cause them injury through our negligent conduct is by paying them money damages.  The party who breached her duty of care to you and caused your injury must compensate you for the damages you suffered as a result.  If you were injured, clearly your medical bills, lost time from work, and pain and suffering are going to comprise your damages. 

However, this element can get complicated when it comes to proving the amount of damages, i.e., how muchyou are entitled to recover for your injuries.  This will focus on what impact the injury has had on your life, your livelihood, your relationships, your hobbies and goals, etc.  This, too, is where an experienced personal injury attorney can help you gather the right kind of evidence and make decisions that enable you to maximize your recovery and get the full amount of compensation you deserve from the party who is responsible for your injury. 

Often the Person Responsible for Paying the Damages Is an Insurance Company

Typically the party who will ultimately be responsible for paying for the damages caused by, say, the other driver, the store owner, the doctor, etc. will be an insurance company.  All drivers in Florida are required to carry auto insurance which typically provides liability coverage for bodily injury and physical property damage caused to another driver.  Thus, in a car accident case, it will be the other driver's insurance company (not the other driver herself) who will actually pay your damages.  In the store owner situation, it will be the owner's property insurance carrier.  In the doctor setting, it will be the doctor's medical malpractice insurance company.  Nine times out of ten, the “person” making the decision about how much you are entitled to recover for your injury is an insurance company and they often are not near as sympathetic as the person who was negligent. 

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