What is Negligence?

Often, accidents happen when care is not taken. The legal concept of “negligence” hinges on the failure to exercise a reasonable level of care and the injury caused by it.

Negligence is the primary legal concept at issue in personal injury cases. Your right to recover compensation for medical bills, property damage, or lost wages could depend on your lawyer’s ability to prove negligence. 

How Does the Law Define Negligence? Four Essential Elements 

To put it simply, negligence is when a person is injured as a result of another person’s carelessness.

When a personal injury claim is brought based on negligence, four separate elements must be established to prove the case. 

The essential elements are:

  • Duty of care
  • Breach of Duty
  • Injury
  • Causation

Let’s say you were recently in a car accident and suffered whiplash injuries in the crash. You are certain the rear-end collision occurred because the other driver was texting and driving. 

To recover compensation, you have the burden of proving their conduct was negligent. Now we will take a look at how the evaluation of negligence unfolds in a personal injury case.

What is a Duty of Care? When Does a Duty of Care Exist?

Distracted driving

The first essential element of negligence is the “duty of care.” The injured plaintiff (you) must establish that the defendant (the other driver) owed you a duty of care. 

What is a duty of care? It’s an obligation established by law or custom. In other words, a person’s responsibility to behave in a certain way to keep others safe from unnecessary harm. 

But how is a person responsible to act? The specific duty of care requires a person to act with the same level of care as a person of ordinary prudence under the same circumstances. 

Basically, everyone is responsible to conduct themselves as a “reasonable person” would in their situation. In driving situations, for example, a person should follow all traffic laws, they should be appropriately skilled and licensed to operate the vehicle they are driving, and they should exercise caution. 

In our car accident situation, you must prove that the driver who rear-ended you owed you a duty of care. Since everyone on the roadways owes a duty of care to other drivers, this can be an easy element to establish. 

How Does a Breach of Duty of Care Occur?

Breach of duty is the second essential element of negligence. Breach of duty is when a person’s acts or omissions were not enough to meet the duty of care owed to you. 

In other words, the person acted in a way that was unreasonable under the circumstances. Illegal acts are almost always unreasonable in the context of personal injury claims. 

As it relates to your car accident claim, you would have to prove that the driver involved owed you a duty of care and that they breached it. To prove breach of duty, you have to show they were too distracted to drive with the necessary caution. Their act of texting and driving, in most states an illegal one, is a breach of the duty of care.

In a Negligence Claim, What Counts as an Injury?

The third essential element of a negligence claim is an injury, also called damages. 

Damages include economic and non-economic injuries, such as:

It is critical to establish injury for a successful negligence claim. Without injury, you cannot recover compensation. There is no damage for which compensation needs to be paid. 

What is Causation and How Does it Impact Negligence Claims?


The last, and probably most important, essential element of a negligence claim is causation. A plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions caused their injuries. You must prove that the defendant’s acts are a direct and proximate cause of your injuries. 

Direct cause, also known as cause-in-fact, means that you would not have been injured if the defendant had not breached their duty of care to you. Proximate cause means that your injuries are a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s actions. 

What’s the Easiest Way to Prove Negligence?

There are no easy ways to prove negligence! Investigating accidents, gathering evidence, and developing a solid negligence case are difficult tasks. If you have been injured in an accident and you need to file a personal injury claim, it is critical to get help from a personal injury attorney that knows the ins and outs of tort law.