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What is “Legally Actionable Negligence”?


Many terms have one meaning in everyday speech and another meaning under the law. This is because the statutes (written laws) and legal precedents (judges’ opinions in court cases) define certain words as “terms of art” that have specialized legal meanings. Sometimes these legal meanings differ from the way people commonly use those words.

It’s important to understand that, when dealing with lawsuits and legal claims, “negligence” is a term that has a very specific legal meaning. It refers to either:

1. A person doing something that a reasonably prudent person would not have done, under the curcumstances, or

2. A person’s failure to do something a reasonably prudent person would have done, under the circumstances.

In either case, injuries (or damage) must result from the negligent person’s action or failure to act. If there are no significant injuries or damages, then legally speaking the conduct was not actionably negligent.


California Civil Code Section 1714(a) creates legal liability “for an injury occasioned to another by . . . want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.” This means that all people–and in this context corporations and other legal entities are considered “people”–must exercise reasonable, ordinary care. The duty to exercise ordinary care extends to the way people act in their private lives, when conducting business, and when managing real and personal property.


In order to prevail on a negligence claim in court, the plaintiff must prove four elements:

1. The existence of some legal duty the defendant (the person who allegedly committed the negligence) owed to the plaintiff.

2. The defendant’s breach of that legal duty.

3. The plaintiff suffered legally recognized damages (including personal injury, economic damage, or damage to property).

4. The plaintiff’s damages were caused by the defendant’s breach of duty.

If any of these elements are not met, if the plaintiff cannot prove them to the required legal standard, or if the defendant presents persuasive, legally applicable defenses to any of the elements, the plaintiff cannot prevail.

This article simplifies negligence somewhat. The actual analysis of legal claims is more complicated (and heavily fact-dependent). However, the foregoing does explain the basic idea of negligence, what it entails under the law, and the elements you (or any other plaintiff) must prove in order to prevail on a negligence claim.

If you believe that you have a negligence claim against another person, or a corporation or other entity, please contact an experienced attorney immediately for an analysis of your legal rights and potential claims.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses) are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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