Most personal injury cases resulting from car accidents involve the legal concept of negligence. In negligence cases, a plaintiff attempts to prove that another party's carelessness caused them to suffer injury or other damage. In order to establish the concept of negligence, a plaintiff has the burden of meeting certain elements of the claim. These elements must be met in every case that asserts negligence as the basis of the legal claim, no matter what the facts may be surrounding the case.
Every negligence claim involves the same basic elements: an individual who had a duty of care breached that duty, which caused damages. These are the elements that must be established in every negligence claim, regardless of the facts giving rise to it. A plaintiff must establish that another person had a responsibility to avoid causing harm in the situation that led to the injury. The plaintiff will then need to show how that person breached their duty of care and also that their breach caused the plaintiff's damages.
Duty of Care
Proving this element of a negligence claim involves demonstrating that there is a certain standard of care that reasonable people meet under the circumstances, and that the individual at fault breached their duty by failing to meet that level of care. In other words, the defendant acted in a way that failed to meet the level of reasonable care under the circumstances. What is considered a reasonable standard of care will generally vary with the circumstances, and it is up to the plaintiff to argue the reasonable standard of care in any given case.
In a car accident case, it is usually argued that a driver has a duty to operate his vehicle with care at all times. This includes modifying driving behavior under the circumstances in conditions like heavy traffic or inclement weather. What would be considered reasonable driving behavior in perfect conditions may not be considered reasonable on an icy road or during rush hour. In addition, traffic codes and regulations exist that determine what a driver's duty is in some situations. For example, driving above the speed limit is prohibited and drivers are encouraged to yield when merging. A violation of a traffic law may be a clear case for negligence.
Breach of Duty
Once duty is proven, the plaintiff must then establish that the defendant breached his or her duty. This involves providing evidence of what the defendant did or failed to do that was unreasonable under the circumstances and amounted to a breach of the applicable standard of care. This can be established by a number of ways, including recorded violation of a traffic law, witness testimony, or circumstantial evidence from the scene.
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