Negligence: How Can I Tell If I Might Have a Claim?

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.Distracted Driving Lawyer

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.