The basis of any personal injury claim is proof of negligence, which is conduct that falls short of reasonable standards for protecting an individual from foreseeable risks of harm. Before you start negotiating your claim, it is critical to understand how to prove all the elements which prove negligence.
Understanding and proving exactly how the defendant's negligence caused your injuries is important. Once you develop the elements of your case, you—and your attorney—can present the facts to the insurance company's claims adjuster and/or the defendant.
The following are the four elements of a personal injury claim where negligence is being alleged:
- Duty of care – The first element of a personal injury case is the existence of a duty of care owed by one person to another. A duty may be created by a law, or it may derive from a “standard of reasonable care” which the law holds we all owe toward each other. For example, motorists have a duty to their passengers and other drivers to operate their vehicle safely. Companies have a duty to their customers to ensure their products are safe to use. Medical professionals have a duty to their patients to treat them in a medically-appropriate manner.
- Breach of duty – The second element that plaintiff must prove is that the defendant breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff. The plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant violated a law or statute, or failed to behave with the level of care that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have exercised. For instance, a reckless driver causes a car crash. A company manufactures a defect product which injuries a customer. A doctor prescribes the wrong medication, and the patient is hospitalized.
- Causation – The third element is showing causation, meaning that the failure to exercise reasonable care resulted in injury. Even if the act of recklessness or carelessness wasn't solely to blame, it must have at least contributed to the injury. The source of the breach could be a person, business, organization, or other entity. For example, when a speeding motorist causes a car accident and someone is injured, the act of speeding is the direct cause of the injuries. When a company manufactures a defective product and a customer is injured while using it, the product directly caused the injury. When a patient's condition worsens due to a prescription error, the treating doctor's actions in prescribing the wrong medication is the direct cause.
- Damages – The fourth and final aspect involves proving your injuries were a result of this negligence. So when a duty exists, and a breach of that duty directly causes an injury, the injured person is responsible for proving the nature and extent of his or her injuries. Documented evidence of the injuries and related expenses is crucial for recovering any settlement or court judgment against the negligent party. Examples of proof of losses include hospital treatment records and corresponding medical bills, doctors' diagnosis of injury, receipts of out-of-pocket costs related to the injury.
As soon as you become familiar with the elements of a personal injury case, you can start matching them to the facts of your case. The purpose is to convince the claims adjuster, or jury, to approve your settlement demand. In order to do that, you need to prove their insured, or the defendant, was negligent.