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What are the Elements of a Negligence Case?

January 15, 2022 Personal injury

Four Elements of a Negligence Case

To hold another party responsible for a personal injury, you must be able to prove negligence. Negligence is a term used to define a party’s failure to exercise the appropriate standard of care expected of them in a particular situation. That may mean doing the wrong or failing to act at all. Establishing the following four elements of negligence is vital to recovering compensation.

Duty of Care

Cases of negligence can only be brought if the defendant owed a duty of care when the injury occurred. A duty of care refers to a person’s legal obligation to exercise reasonable care in preventing others from being harmed. It is what separates an unavoidable accident from one that could have been prevented. The duty of care owed will depend on the circumstances unique to your case and what a reasonable person would have done in the same situation. For example, drivers owe others on the road a duty of care to follow traffic laws, such as obeying the speed limit, stopping at red lights, or using turn signals. Another example is medical professionals, such as doctors, have a legal obligation to possess the same training and skills as other doctors in their community and to extend that degree of skill and care to their patients.

Breach of Duty of Care

A breach of duty of care is a defendant’s failure to demonstrate the reasonable care expected of them in the situation where a personal injury or death occurred. Violating this duty can be a failure to act to prevent injury or a wrongful action taken by the defendant that resulted in an injury. Since different situations call for a higher or lower standard of care, whether the defendant acted “reasonably” is often the most contentious issue in a personal injury case and will depend on the relationship between the parties. Some examples of situations in which a duty is breached are when a driver is texting and crashes into another vehicle; a manufacturer produces a contaminated batch of medication; a doctor prescribes a medication that the patient is knowingly allergic to; a surgeon operates on the wrong body part, etc.

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause involves providing evidence that the defendant’s actions or inaction directly caused your injury. In other words, the injury would not have occurred if not for the defendant’s behavior. In some cases, proving proximate cause can be easy. If the harm caused by the defendant’s actions was foreseeable, most courts will find that you have met the burden of proof for causation. For instance, if the defendant was intoxicated and caused a car accident in which you broke your leg, then you immediately sought medical care; those medical records would link the injury to the accident. On the other hand, it would be harder to prove that an injury was caused by a physician’s failure to diagnose an illness early on.


The final element to prove in a negligence case is damages. There must be evidence that you suffered losses, typically in the form of a physical injury, property damage, or psychological harm—for example, medical bills, lost income, pain, suffering, etc. Without losses for which the court can award compensation, there is no case.

If you are looking to hold another party accountable for their negligent behavior, hiring a San Diego accident lawyer can help you prove your claim and get the compensation you deserve. Contact the experienced attorneys at CaseyGerry for a free case evaluation today (619) 238-1811.