In common law legal systems, legal negligence is a type of tort claim brought in a civil case in order to allow a person who has been injured by another to recover money. In general terms, a person is negligent if he or she fails to exercise reasonable care and, as a result, causes injury or loss to another person. A legal negligence lawsuit often hinges on the specific facts at issue, and a judge or jury must carefully weigh all of the evidence before determining whether negligence has actually occurred.
The precise elements of legal negligence can vary from one jurisdiction to another. In most jurisdictions, the injured person, called the plaintiff, must prove four elements in order to win the case. If the plaintiff is successful, the negligent person, referred to as the defendant, is generally ordered to pay the plaintiff a certain amount of money. The damage award is set by the fact finder, and it is intended to compensate the plaintiff for the injuries he or she suffered as a result of the defendant’s behavior.
The first element that the plaintiff normally needs to prove is that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. In a typical legal negligence case, the duty of care is simply the level of care that a reasonable person would be required to meet under the same or similar circumstances. Secondly, the plaintiff must be able to demonstrate that the defendant breached the duty of care. This breach may occur as a result of the defendant’s actions or inaction.
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Thirdly, the plaintiff ordinarily needs to show that he or she has suffered injury or loss. The fourth element of legal negligence is proximate causation. To prove this element, the plaintiff must be able to show that his or her injuries were caused as a result of the defendant breaching a duty of care.
To illustrate, assume that a man was driving through a residential area and, while fiddling with his radio, hit a child who was riding her bike in the street. As a result of the accident, the child broke her leg. The child and her family would likely have a successful legal negligence case against the driver because the driver owed the child a duty to drive safely while in a residential area. By fiddling with the radio and not paying attention, the driver breached that duty of care. As a result, the child suffered a concrete injury – a broken leg. In addition, causation is present because the child’s broken leg was a direct result of the man’s careless driving.