If you have been injured in a car accident, you may think that the details surrounding the case are fairly straightforward. However, every injury case relies on a specific series of elements to prove negligence—and if one of these elements is overlooked, a victim’s right to collect damages may be compromised.
There Are Four Things Required to Establish Negligence in an Injury Case
Negligence affects every part of an injury case, including who may be responsible for the accident and how much a victim can receive in a settlement. For this reason, the injury victim (plaintiff) and the person being sued (defendant) will both attempt to gather evidence that proves the other was negligent in some way.
Generally speaking, there are four elements that are needed to legally establish negligence. In order to recover damages, the plaintiff will have to prove that:
Proof That A "Duty of Care" Existed
The first step in proving negligence is showing that the defendant owed you a legal duty of care. In other words, the defendant had a responsibility to reasonably protect you (and others like you) from harm.
In a car accident case, drivers have a duty of care to other road users because they are expected to operate vehicles safely and adhere to the rules of the road. For example, all drivers have a duty of care to look for pedestrians before entering into a crosswalk. If you were struck while crossing the street legally, the driver owed you a duty of care.
Proof That The Defendant Breached The Duty Of Care
Once you have established duty of care, you and your car accident attorney will have to show that the defendant breached that duty. A breach of care can take many forms but is usually done when a defendant fails to act in a way that a reasonable person would under the circumstances.
The defendant’s actions are typically compared to the actions of a "reasonably prudent person,” meaning how an average person acting according to the law, knowing what the defendant knew, would have behaved in a similar situation. In the case above, if you were struck in a crosswalk because the defendant was sending a text message, the defendant was not giving you the same standard of care a reasonable person would.
Proof That The Defendant’s Breach Directly Caused Your Injuries
The third element of negligence is causation, which requires a plaintiff to show evidence linking the defendant's actions with his or her injuries. This step is necessary to determine just how much of the plaintiff’s suffering was caused by the defendant’s negligence.
Just because a defendant is negligent does not mean he is responsible for all of the things happening around him. For instance, if you fell into a pothole and suffered injuries while crossing the street, the defendant is not liable for your injury costs even if he was texting and driving.
On the other hand, if you were also texting while crossing the street, the jury may determine that you share some fault for your own injuries, affecting the amount you are awarded. In addition, the jury may be unwilling to force a defendant to pay for any injuries you suffered that were caused by an underlying condition or personal choices that made your injuries more severe.
Proof That You Suffered Actual Harm
The final element of a negligence case is the amount and nature of damages. Damages are monetary compensation for expenses and financial losses (such as medical bills or lost property). In most cases, plaintiffs will not be able to collect for emotional trauma in an accident where no injuries occurred.
However, if a physical injury also caused emotional suffering, the plaintiff can be awarded additional damages for psychological injury. For example, a defendant struck as a pedestrian by a distracted driver can suffer severe injuries, including permanent physical restrictions that make it difficult or impossible to earn a living. In addition, the plaintiff may have trouble sleeping, be afraid to travel by car, or suffer from scarring or disfigurement that affects his or her self-esteem.
If you have been injured due to someone else's negligence, our attorneys can listen to your story and advise you on your legal rights. Download your FREE copy of our book, When the Rules of the Road Get Broken: A Guide to Illinois Car Wreck Cases, or contact The Tapella & Eberspacher Law Firm via our online contact form to schedule an appointment.