How Do You Prove Negligence in a Personal Injury Case?
There’s a common misconception that if you were involved in an accident that you are automatically entitled to compensation. The reality is far different. Instead, Nevada law states that you are entitled to compensation only if the other person is at fault for your injuries.
Basically, a person is at fault when they failed to use sufficient care, and they injured you as a result. This is the law of negligence.
At Naqvi Injury Law, our Las Vegas personal injury lawyers understand the law of negligence inside and out. We can begin tracking down evidence to use for your case and help you document your injuries. But first, we want to explain the law of negligence in a way that is simple to understand. Contact our office today to learn more.
What Are the Legal Elements to Prove Negligence?
Legally, you must show certain facts to make out a claim for negligence. There are four:
1. Duty. The person you are suing (the defendant) had a responsibility to not hurt you by following the law or acting with reasonable care.
2. Breach. The defendant failed to act with reasonable care, so he or they breached their duty of care.
3. Causation. You must connect the defendant’s lack of care to your injuries. In many cases, this is easy. If a motorist slams into you in the intersection and you suffer a neck fracture, there is a clear connection between the defendant’s conduct and your injury. In other cases, the connection is not so direct.
4. Damages. The purpose of bringing a personal injury claim is to receive compensation in the form of money damages for your losses. You don’t have a negligence claim unless you suffered some sort of loss, such as medical expenses or lost wages. Damages cannot be too speculative.
Those are the four elements. We’ll look at each more closely below.
How Do I Know the Defendant Owed Me a Duty of Care?
Sometimes you have a contractual relationship with someone, which creates a duty. The mechanic you take your car to has agreed to perform repairs, so he should use reasonable care while inspecting and performing maintenance. If he fails to, and your car gets into an accident as a result, then the mechanic is liable.
In most cases, however, a duty arises out of physical proximity. This is true in car accidents. A motorist must operate their vehicle with reasonable care so that they don’t injure those near them on the highway and sidewalks.
The same is true in premises liability cases. If a business opens its doors to invite in customers, then they owe those customers a duty not to harm them.
What is Reasonable Care?
If a person owes you a duty, they usually owe a duty of “reasonable care.” This standard does not require perfection. However, it also means that a person cannot be careless, either.
Reasonable care also does not mean what the typical or average person would do in a situation. An average person might speed while driving, for example, or send a text message while driving. But when we think of a hypothetical reasonably careful person, they would not do those things.
Generally, a reasonably careful person would also follow the law. So if a motorist violates a traffic safety law, they almost always have been negligent because they failed to use reasonable care.
Are There Examples of Negligence?
The examples depend on the type of personal injury case you are bringing. If you were involved in a car or truck accident, then a negligent driver could speed, tailgate, weave in and out of traffic, pass illegally, and drive too close to pedestrians. A driver who is chemically impaired or distracted is also negligent.
Other personal injury cases include premises liability claims. For example, you could have been attacked in a casino and there’s a question of whether the casino had adequate security. We would ask, “How much security would a reasonably careful casino have?” They should certainly have functioning security cameras and adequate staff members to maintain order. They should also remove people from the premises who they know are disruptive. If they fail to, then they probably have been negligent.
Were My Injuries Caused by the Defendant?
As mentioned above, causation is usually straightforward. A person fails to act carefully, and they directly impact you, causing injury.
In other cases, causation might not be so direct. Take the careless mechanic example above. He might clumsily fix the brakes on someone’s car, which ultimately fail. The car then crashes into a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Both the car driver and the pedestrian are hurt. Can the pedestrian sue the mechanic for negligence?
The answer is probably yes. Although the pedestrian didn’t do business with the mechanic, it should have been foreseeable that poor brake work could end up hurting someone out on the road after the car crashes. For that reason, there is probably causation.
Causation does not always have to be direct, but there must be a sufficiently close connection between the breach of the duty of care and your injuries. The legal term is “proximate cause.”
Sometimes, the causal chain is too long for there to be proximate cause. For example, a person might throw a ball to their dog, which runs onto the sidewalk, causing a cyclist to veer into the road. A motorist then swerves into oncoming traffic to avoid the cyclist but ends up hitting another car. In this example, the line connecting the person throwing the ball to the injured motorist might be too long for there to be proximate causation.
Do You Have Damages?
This is easy to figure out. So long as you lost some money due to the accident, you have suffered sufficient damages to bring a claim. Most people have some medical bills, car damage, or lost income. However, you can’t sue for a “near miss” accident, no matter how frightened you are.
What is Comparative Negligence?
Sometimes both people involved in an accident were negligent. Take a typical car crash. One motorist might have run a red light intentionally because he was high on cocaine. He slams into a motorist who was going slowly through the intersection because they were looking at their phone.
In this example, both drivers have been negligent in some capacity. We think of the driver who was hit as the victim, but they weren’t driving carefully, either, because they had their attention diverted by their phone. Comparative negligence requires that we assign fault between the two parties.
A victim’s comparative negligence will reduce their amount of compensation by a like percentage. So if you had $120,000 in damages but were 25% responsible, then you can receive at most $90,000.
Can a Victim’s Negligence Bar Any Financial Recovery?
Yes. According to Nevada Revised Statute 41.141, a person cannot bring a personal injury lawsuit if they were more than 50% responsible for an accident. In practice, our clients can be up to 50% to blame—but not over by even a hair.
What Evidence Do I Need to Prove Negligence?
Helpful evidence will depend on the case. If you were involved in a car accident, then eyewitness testimony (including your own) is helpful. Dashcam video or nearby surveillance video is also useful. When motorists are chemically impaired, a breath or blood test can show by how much.
Even better, the defendant might admit at the scene that they were responsible or that they weren’t paying attention to what they were doing. Sometimes they admit this under oath.