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What is Negligence?


When people (or, in proper circumstances, entities like corporations) fail to comply with their legal duties, and someone is injured as a result of that failure, negligence law provides the framework within which courts (and individuals) determine whether or not the wrongdoer will be held liable and forced to compensate the injured party.

Generally speaking, a defendant is negligent when (s)he does, or not do, something that a reasonably prudent person or entity would have done (or refrained from doing) under similar circumstances. While this oversimplifies the law somewhat, it’s a reasonable summary of what negligence law does and means.


In order to bring a successful claim for negligence, a plaintiff must prove all of the following elements to the legally-required degree of proof:

1. The defendant had a legal duty.

2. The defendant breached (failed to comply with) the legal duty.

3. The plaintiff suffered harm or injury.

4. The defendant’s breach of duty was the cause of the plaintiff’s harm or injury.

Again, this simplifies the law, but offers a reasonable basic explanation. In some cases, a defendant may be able to claim that one or more legal defenses justified the breach of duty. Sometimes, the damage a plaintiff suffers is not severe enough, or of an appropriate kind, to warrant an order of damages against the defendant. Finally, a plaintiff may be partially responsible for the harm (s)he suffered, which may reduce the amount of damages the defendant is forced to pay or, in some cases, prevent the plaintiff from recovering damages altogether.

Not all injuries are the result of negligence, and–although this is difficult for some injured people to hear–not all injuries lead to liability or damages awards. That said, if you suffer injury (physical, mental, economic, or otherwise) due to someone else’s actions, you should never attempt to evaluate your claims and legal rights alone. Consult an experienced attorney promptly, and be aware that certain laws may limit your right to recover for injuries if you wait too long to bring a claim.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR 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. Negligence claims 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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