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The Four Requirements to Rule a Negligence Case

For a valid negligence case, which is relevant for many lawsuits, four terms must be met. If any one of the four terms is not met, there is no case. If you believe your case meets all four terms, call the Orange County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (407)422-4537, Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or visit our website to request a lawyer referral online. We will review what happened and refer you to the appropriate type of negligence attorney. The attorney will listen to what has happened up to this point and advise you want can be done.

1. Duty

A duty means there is a legal obligation that is owed to the injured party. There are two kinds of duties that a defendant (the one being sued) could owe the plaintiff (the injured party). The first is the general “duty of care”. The duty of care is simply a duty to conduct yourself as a reasonable person would conduct himself, acting under similar circumstances. In any negligence suit we look at the defendant’s actions to determine if a reasonable person would have acted the way the defendant acted, had the reasonable person been in the same circumstances. If the defendant’s behavior matches the reasonable man’s behavior, the defendant has fulfilled his duty of care. If the defendant’s actions fall below the reasonable man’s actions, then the defendant has breached his duty.

The second duty is a “special duty” imposed by statute or case law, which may exist either in addition to or in place of the regular duty of care. For example:

A city passes a law that requires all landowners must shovel the sidewalks in front of their property after it snows. This law also imposes injuries for people who are hurt by slipping on the ice in front of the owners’ property, if they did not shovel the snow within a reasonable time. Every landowner now has a duty to anyone injured by ice caused by snow build-up on the sidewalk in front of their property.

To determine duty, you must look at the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant and identify whether or not, based on that relationship, the defendant owed duty to the plaintiff.

2. Breach

A breach is a violation of duty. Once you have determined the existence of a duty, you must determine whether or not the defendant has breached his/her duty. A defendant can breach his/her duty by acting in a certain manner or by failing to act in a certain manner. That is to say, a defendant can breach his/her duty by acting in a manner that violates the reasonable test, or by not acting in a situation where he/she is legally required to act. Continuing with the above example:

The landlord refuses to shovel the sidewalk in front of his/her apartment block. The snow builds up and it becomes hazardous to walk in front of the building. The landlord is not fulfilling his/her legally required duty and a breach has occurred.

3. Cause

The breach of duty must cause harm to the injured party. Once you have demonstrated that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff and that the defendant breached that duty, you must show that the breach was the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s harm. Again, with the above story:

Abby was walking along the sidewalk when she approaches the snow drift. Abby has no other route to go and walks along the snow. Abby slips on the snow and breaks her knee. The landlord is responsible for the harm caused to Abby by breaching the duty to her.

If there is no duty, but there is harm, there is no negligence. For instance:

Abby was walking along the sidewalk when she approaches the snow drift. Abby is walking on top of the snow and a mugger comes up behind her, takes her purse, and she falls and breaks her knee. The landlord is not responsible because the harm was caused by the mugger and not her breach of duty.

4. Harm

The injured party must suffer financial harm to sue. If there is no financial harm, there is no case. This is usually the hardest, and most important aspect of a negligence case. In civil court, you sue for a specific amount of money. If there are no financial damages, there is nothing to sue for, even if all of the other three terms are met. To finish the story:

Abby falls and breaks her knee. Her insurance covers all her medical bills and she was able to use paid time-off from her work as she quickly recovered. There is no financial harm here, and the case falls apart.

However, Abby falls and breaks her knee. She has no insurance and her job refuses to give her paid time off to recover. The landlord is responsible for any of the medical bills or any potential lost income.

To reiterate, if you believe all four requirements for negligence are met, call or go online to the Orange County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service and request an attorney. We will review what happened in the case and refer you to the right kind of negligence attorney. The attorney will listen to what has happened up to this point and advise you of the next steps you can take.

Author: Michael Krug | Date: August 31, 2018