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Negligence Claims: The Basics

Regardless of the facts or circumstances of an accident, the law examines whether the person allegedly at fault acted with reasonable care or carelessly so as to contribute to the plaintiff’s injuries. The question is “was the defendant negligent?” In order to prove the defendant’s negligence and liability for personal injuries, a plaintiff must prove all elements of a negligence claim. A jury will then weigh the facts of the case against the elements of a negligence claim to decide whether a plaintiff may recover damages from the defendant. The elements of a negligence claim are duty, breach of that duty, causation, and damages.


Sometimes, the outcome of a negligence claim can depend on whether the defendant owed a certain duty of care toward the plaintiff. A duty of care arises when the law recognizes a relationship between plaintiff and defendant. A judge will determine whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, and a jury will then decide whether that duty was breached. The basic rule is that everyone must take reasonable care to avoid injury to others. What is considered reasonable care can vary with the circumstances of the situation. For example, if a driver hits a pedestrian while running a red light, a judge will find that the driver had a duty of care to the pedestrian, who obviously had the right of way in this situation.

Breach of Duty

In order for a jury to find a defendant liable for plaintiff’s injuries, the defendant must have breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff. The duty of care is breached when the defendant fails to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. In the example above, the jury would decide whether running a red light was a breach of the driver’s duty of care toward the pedestrian that he hit. Under these circumstances, a jury would find that the driver did breach the duty of care to the pedestrian, as a driver has a duty to obey all traffic laws and stop for pedestrians in intersections when the light is red.


The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions directly caused the plaintiff’s injury. It must be proved that but for the actions of the defendant, the plaintiff would not have sustained injury. In our example, causation can be proved because but for the actions of the driver (running the red light), the pedestrian (who was rightfully crossing the road) would not have been injured. As for the defendant’s liability, he or she is only responsible for those injuries or harms that are foreseeable results of his or her actions. This is called proximate cause.


A plaintiff alleging negligence must demonstrate that harm or injury was actually caused. Generally, this tends to be shown in the form of injury to a person or property. In order for a plaintiff to recover compensation for injuries, it is not sufficient to only show that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. The plaintiff must demonstrate that this failure on the part of the defendant resulted in actual demonstrable damages.

If you or a loved one has sustained injuries or property damages caused by another’s negligence, the personal injury attorneys in Atlanta at Goldstein and Hayes, P.C. are here to help you win your case. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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