“Negligence” is a legal term. Its most common synonym in ordinary parlance is “carelessness.” Nevertheless, the concept of negligence includes a lot of complexity and nuance that you need to understand if you are pursuing a personal injury claim based on negligence.
Indeed, negligence is the basis of most personal injury claims.
The Four Elements of a Negligence-Based Personal Injury Claim
Following are the four standard components of most negligence-based personal injury claims:
- Duty of Care: The defendant owed you a duty of care. Most of the time, this means the duty to exercise enough common sense to refrain from carelessly injuring someone else—don’t text and drive, for example.
- Breach of Duty: “Breach of duty” refers to the defendant’s failure to exercise their duty of care.
- Causation: The defendant’s breach of duty must have caused your damages, and it must have done so in a manner that would have been foreseeable to a reasonable person.
- Damages: You must prove every dime of the damages you claim. This includes intangible elements of damages such as pain and suffering.
To win, you must prove each one of the four elements described above by “a preponderance of the evidence.” It is a lot easier to prove a claim this way than to prove it “beyond a reasonable doubt” as a prosecutor would have to in a criminal case. You have accumulated a preponderance of the evidence when your evidence at least slightly outweighs the defendant’s evidence.
Forms of Negligence
Many forms of negligence exist, as described below.
Ordinary negligence is the type of negligence that most people have committed many times. It might mean running a stop light or allowing a dangerous condition to exist on your property without warning guests of the danger.
Ordinary negligence contrasts with gross negligence, which is more serious.
If ordinary negligence means running a stop sign, gross negligence means driving while very drunk, shaving in the rearview mirror while driving, or pushing someone into the deep end of a swimming pool when you don’t know whether they can swim.
In a civil lawsuit, the main difference between ordinary negligence and gross negligence is that you can use gross negligence to establish punitive damages, which could increase your total damages.
Professional negligence is a heightened standard of negligence that applies to professionals in certain fields. You would expect an emergency room technician to perform better medical treatment on you than an architect who rendered first aid at the scene of a traffic accident. The more you know, and the greater your skills are, the easier it is for you to commit negligence. That is why doctors maintain expensive medical malpractice insurance.
Negligence Per Se
Normally, there is no clear-cut standard to determine whether a particular defendant’s actions constituted negligence under certain circumstances. One jury might decide that a particular defendant was negligent, while another jury might decide the defendant was not negligent under the exact same set of facts.
The concept of negligence per se, however, is a shortcut to proving negligence. For the negligence per se doctrine to apply:
- The defendant must have broken a safety law;
- You must have been a member of a class of people whom the law was designed to protect (pedestrians, for example);
- You must have suffered the type of injury that the law was designed to prevent.; and
- The defendant’s misconduct must have caused your injury.
If you can prove all of these elements, and if you can also prove the amount of your damages, you have won your claim based on negligence per se. An example would be if a commercial trucker violated regulations by sleeping too few hours, then fell asleep at the wheel causing an accident.
In many cases, both parties contribute to the accident. How do you assign liability in such cases? Different states take different approaches. Florida applies a “modified comparative fault” approach that bars recovery if your share of fault exceeds 50%.
Under modified comparative fault, a court will assign a percentage of fault to each party involved in the accident. The court will then deduct a percentage of damages from each at-fault party in exact proportion to their percentage of fault. If you were 20% at fault, for example, you will lose 20% of your damages. Meanwhile, the other party must pay 80% of your damages.
However, if you were 51% (or more) at fault, you will be entitled to nothing from the other party.
Florida’s No-Fault Traffic Accident Compensation Rules
Although most Florida personal injury cases are based on negligence, Florida applies a different system to car accidents. Every Florida driver must purchase $10,000 worth of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. If an accident occurs, the driver must look to their own insurance to compensate them, regardless of which driver was negligent.
A problem arises, however, if your damages exceed $10,000. Although you can sue the at-fault driver if you were seriously injured, Florida motorists do not have to purchase personal injury liability insurance. This means that no matter how negligent the at-fault driver may have been, you might not be able to recover more than $10,000 in damages.
Certain drivers, however, almost always carry more than enough ability insurance to cover almost any claim. These drivers include:
Recently, some state legislators have tried to reform Florida’s no-fault system. For now, however, it remains in place.
Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer to Represent You in a Negligence Claim
You are likely to experience great difficulty negotiating a substantial negligence claim with an insurance company or a corporate legal department because these people hone their negotiating skills every day. Speak with a St. Petersburg personal injury lawyer as soon as you realize you might have a claim and contact Lopez Law Group Accident Injury Attorneys.