In legal terms, negligence is any behavior that doesn’t meet the standards expected of a reasonable person that would protect others from harm in similar circumstances, as a personal injury lawyer, can explain. The concept evolved from English Law, which outlined liability for the wrongful acts of one party. Later, in the 18th century, negligence emerged as an independent cause of action.
As a plaintiff, to prove that your harms and losses were caused by the negligence of another (the defendant), you must prove specific facts.
- You must prove that the other person owed a duty to you.
- You must prove that the other person breached that duty by not meeting the expected standard of conduct.
- You must prove that the breach of duty harmed you.
Defining the Duty
Even if someone behaves with carelessness, you cannot prove negligence unless the defendant owed a duty to you, the plaintiff. In general terms, each person has a duty to take reasonable steps to look out for others’ safety by caring for their physical safety and maintaining property to keep it safe. For example, if you have a hole in your yard and invite a guest to your home who falls and injures himself, you may be negligent because you had a duty to protect your guest on your property. However, if a burglar enters your yard, attempting to steal your stuff, and falls into the same hole, you have no duty to that person. Courts must decide what relationship and duty exist between the parties before a jury hears the case.
Defining the Reasonable Person
Since negligence means that the defendant did not behave according to the standards expected of a reasonable person in those circumstances, you must understand what constitutes a reasonable person. The concept of the reasonable person doesn’t refer to a specific individual. Instead, it is a broader term to describe how a member of the community should behave in situations that threaten the public’s well-being. The standard is unaffected even if most members of the community behave counter to them. For example, even if everyone goes faster than the speed limit, the speed limit is still the legal standard.
If you think another’s negligence may have harmed you, you should speak to a knowledgeable and experienced attorney in your area. Laws are specific to your state, so you want to get advice from someone who knows your jurisdiction’s rules and procedures.