Basic Concepts of a Negligence Lawsuit (Part 1) Differences in Duty Owed in Specific Cases

Many people find themselves the victim of the careless conduct of an individual or entity resulting in serious injuries including motor vehicle accidents (i.e. car crashes, tractor-trailer accidents, pedestrian accidents, motorcycle accidents or busing accidents), slip and falls and construction accidents.  The basis of liability will typically be the negligence of another party.  Many injury victims do not necessarily know what a lawsuit based on “negligence” really means.  In the simplest terms, negligence means the carelessness or lack of care by the party that caused your injuries.  A personal injury lawsuit requires more than simply showing that another party was careless and that you were injured.  An experienced personal injury attorney will be familiar with the legal and factual issues that must be established for you to obtain compensation for your injuries.  While this two-part article provides a basic overview of common negligence principles, only a qualified personal injury attorney can provide legal advice regarding the specifics of your personal injury case.

Elements of Negligence Cause of Action

An injured party must establish the following to make out a successful claim for negligence:

Ÿ  Duty: The party causing the injury must have a legal duty toward the injured party.  In an accident case, this element is not usually an issue in motor vehicle accident cases because all people who share  the roadways owe a duty of reasonable care toward others on the road.  In other cases, a duty may be based on a contractual relationship such as that between a doctor or patient or on warranty between the manufacturer of a defective product and a consumer.

Ÿ  Breach of Duty: This basically means that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care to avoid injury toward another.  An example of such as breach in a motor vehicle accident case may be based on driving under the influence, speeding, distracted driving or other unsafe driving practice.  The standard of care may be higher in some situations as indicated below.

Ÿ  Causation: This includes being the actual or “but for “cause of your injuries. This is causation in the ordinary sense of everyday language.  However, the law of negligence also includes another concept of negligence called “proximate cause”.  This term refers to the fact that though some things may be connected in a sequence of cause and effect they are too remote or unforeseeable to impose liability.  The concept of a proximate cause typically involves a policy decision not to impose liability in some situations where the result from an act is not a sufficiently foreseeable risk from the negligent act.

Ÿ  Damages: You must suffer actual harm to bring a claim for negligence.

Differences in the Duty Owed in Specific Injury Cases

Although the issue of duty is rarely at issue in a automobile accident lawsuit, it is often a significant issue in other kinds of cases.  Sometimes the law imposes a heightened duty of care on certain individuals or entities which means that these defendants must take more than just ordinary care to avoid injury to others.  Common examples include the following:

Specialized Knowledge: A medical professional or doctor is not expected to simply show the same level of care in treating a patient as an ordinary person.  Because of a doctor’s specialized training and experience, a doctor is held to the level of a professional with similar training and experience in the community.  Other professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, are held to a similar standard for determining professional negligence.

Extremely Dangerous Activities: There are certain situations where a defendant may be liable for injuries even when they have taken great care to avoid injury.  This concept is referred to as “strict liability”.  Strict liability often applies when people engage in inherently hazardous activities, such as doing “blasting” in a city.  If the blasting damages you, the company is liable for your injuries no matter how careful the company was to avoid injury.

Exclusive Control: The law also may impose a heightened duty of care when control of the instrumentality that causes injury is exclusively within the control of the defendant.  A “common carrier” like a busing company is an example.  Because the bus company has exclusive control over the maintenance of the bus as well as the training and supervision of the bus driver, there is little that a passenger can do to make bus rides safer.  Because passengers must basically entrust their safety to the busing company, the law holds bus companies to an extremely high level of care to avoid injury to patrons in busing accidents.

The first part of this article has addressed the concept of different levels of duty of care but only an experienced Kansas City personal injury attorney can give legal advice with regard to the specifics of your personal injury case.  If you have been injured in an auto accident case, you may wish to read Part 2 of this overview of basic negligence principles which provides basic information regarding breach of the duty or care and issues related to causation.

Michael R. Lawless, P.A., Attorney at Law provides a free consultation, including evenings and weekends by appointment, at our Lenexa, Kansas or Grandview, Missouri offices. Our office in Lenexa is off of I-35 from 87th or 95th in Old Town at 93rd and Pflumm. Our Grandview office is conveniently located at the main street exit off of 71 Highway, next to Captain D’s. Call us today at 1-888-843-9094, 913-284-0083 or 816-966-0099.