In order to prevail in a claim against a defendant for negligence, a plaintiff
must plead and prove that:
- The defendant owed him / her a duty;
- The defendant breached that duty;
- The plaintiff was harmed; and
- The nature and extent of the harm.
First, the analysis starts with the concept of
"duty." Ordinarily this means a person owes a duty of reasonable care to another
so as not to cause them harm. In
car accident cases, a driver has, among other duties, a duty to keep a proper look out.
Once it has been established a defendant owes a plaintiff a duty, a plaintiff
must show that the defendant breached that duty. A
"breach" can be thought of as an act or omission violating the duty the defendant
owes to the plaintiff. In the motor vehicle example, a defendant could
breach a duty to a plaintiff by texting while driving, thereby failing
to keep a proper look out.
Once it has been established a defendant breached a duty owed to a plaintiff,
the plaintiff must show that breach caused the
injuries to the plaintiff. Consider the following examples: In the case of the
defendant who is texting and driving, the plaintiff will be able to show
her injuries were caused by the defendant's breach of duty if the
defendant were to strike the plaintiff who is walking halfway across the
street in the crosswalk because the defendant is texting and fails to
see her. However, if the plaintiff were to be walking toward the crosswalk
on the sidewalk and trips on a construction cone there and falls and breaks
her hip, while watching the defendant still driving and texting down the
road toward the crosswalk, the texting driver's breach of his duty
to people around him for failing to keep a proper look out did not cause
the plaintiff's injuries. There has to be a causal connection between
a defendant's breach of his duty to the injuries to the plaintiff.
Once it has been established the defendant breached his duty and that breach
caused the plaintiff injuries, the plaintiff must prove the
nature and extent of her injuries. Usually, that proof comes from healthcare providers who
treated her for her injuries. It is important the healthcare providers
are able to relate the injuries for which they are treating the plaintiff
to the defendant's breach of duty.
This post is only a very remedial, general overview of some concepts related
to negligence, and should not be used as a substitute for good counsel—knowing
whether you have a viable negligence claim or not requires a consultation
with a knowledgeable attorney. For more information about negligence and
filing a personal injury claim, contact a Northern Virginia personal injury
lawyer from Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C.