How Do You Prove Negligence in a Personal Injury Case?
In many personal injury cases, you and your lawyer will be tasked with proving negligence; in other words, you’ll have to show that the offending party was personally responsible for the injuries you suffered. Negligence can be tricky to prove, and tricky to understand, even if the other party has clearly done something wrong.
In this guide, we’ll break down what “negligence” is, the best way to prove it, and how to use this information to your advantage in a personal injury case.
What Is Negligence?
The easiest way to think about negligence is to consider it another term for “fault.” The true definition of the term is as Merriam-Webster puts it, “a failure to exercise appropriate and/or ethical ruled care expected to be exercised amongst specified circumstances.” This is important because it holds people responsible not just for actions that directly harm other people, but also inaction that directly harms other people.
There are four components of negligence that must be proven in order for negligence to be clearly established:
- Duty of care. First, you must prove that the defendant had a clear duty of care; they had an ethical or social obligation to provide some level of care or caution to another individual. In some cases, this is easy; for example, under the Hippocratic Oath, physicians are obligated to uphold certain ethical standards, including “doing no harm” to their patients. If you visit a doctor, you can reasonably expect them to do everything they can to protect your health. If you’re driving on the road, you have an obligation to maintain the safety of the people around you by operating your car in a responsible manner. Other situations are more ambiguous; does a stranger have an obligation to warn you about a pothole in the sidewalk up ahead so you don’t trip and fall?
- The breach of duty. Next, you must establish that the defendant breached this duty. If the doctor had a duty to protect your health, did they commit an action or omit an action that violated that duty? For example, did they prescribe you an incorrect medication for your illness? Did the driver of a vehicle on the road clearly exceed the speed limit or ignore posted signage in a negligent manner?
- A causal link. After that, you need to prove that there’s a causal link between that breach of duty and your actual injury. If a car blows a stop sign, swerves, and hits a tree, then you hit a totally different tree unprompted, the first car isn’t responsible for your accident, even though they breached their “duty of care.” You have to clearly show that one action directly led to these consequences.
- Demonstrable damages. From there, you need to prove the extent of the damages that were caused by this breach of duty. You can do this in several ways, such as by using the expert assessment of a mechanic to show how much damage was done to your vehicle, or using a doctor’s evaluation and other medical paperwork to show the extent of your injuries.
Why Negligence Is Hard to Prove
Why is negligence so hard to prove?
There are several reasons:
- Simultaneous proof. It’s not enough to prove one or two elements of negligence were in place; you have to show that all four were active. This can be difficult since even a small ambiguity in a single element could compromise your results.
- Missing pieces of information. You don’t always have access to all the information you’d like to have. Missing footage, ambiguous laws, and other gaps can all work against you.
- Contradictory stories. If you’re relying on eyewitness testimony or your own story, you’re open to contradictions. If two people are saying opposite things, who’s to say what the truth is?
- Subjective interpretations. Sometimes, negligence is open to subjective interpretation. What one person considers to be a breach of care could be totally dismissed by another.
- Adversarial nature. In the United States, we use an adversarial legal system where two opposing groups of people argue opposite sides of a case. While your lawyer will be fighting hard to demonstrate that negligence clearly led to your harm, another lawyer will be fighting hard to disprove that – and they only need to find one flaw in the argument to do it.
How to Maximize Your Chances
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to maximize your chances of proving negligence in a court of law:
- Be cautious. Understand that your case isn’t guaranteed to win, even if you’ve suffered heavy damages and losses. Avoid saying anything incriminating or losing control of key pieces of evidence.
- Gather all the evidence and documentation you can. Your lawyer can help you do this, but make a concentrated effort to gather all the evidence and documentation you can. These include things like dashcam footage, surveillance footage, medical records, and even eyewitness testimony. The more hard information you have on your side, the easier it will be to prove negligence.
- Trust your lawyer. You’ve hired your lawyer for a reason. They’re your expert in this matter and you can count on them to provide you with expert advice. Trust their advice and suggestions – and follow what they say as best you can.
- Be thorough. Even a single detail can compromise your ability to prove negligence in a court of law. Accordingly, you have to be thorough, and prepare for any possible counterargument.
Proving negligence in a personal injury case can be tough, but with the help of a good lawyer, you’ll have a great chance of winning a sizable settlement for the damages you’ve incurred. There’s even a way for you to get your settlement proceeds faster: pre-settlement funding.
With pre-settlement funding, you’ll get instant access to the capital you’re projected to win in exchange for a small fee, due only if and when you win the settlement. Apply today to get started!