In order to sue someone for an accident, you have to prove that they were negligent. Negligence is the legal term for saying someone is responsible for an accident because their actions, or lack thereof, caused the incident. If you can prove negligence, you have the right to compensation for your injuries (and you aren’t more than 50% responsible). You also have the right to have a personal injury attorney help you prove your case.
How Do You Prove Negligence in an Injury Case?
In order to prove negligence in an injury case, you need to prove each of the elements of negligence. Elements are essentially requirements. For example, the elements of practicing law here in Texas are obtaining a doctor of jurisprudence degree from an accredited law school, passing the Texas bar exam, and maintain active status with the State Bar of Texas.
The burden of proof in a negligence case is the preponderance of the evidence. That means you have to prove that there’s more than a 50% chance that what you’re saying is true. You have to meet the burden of proof for every element in your case.
What Are the 4 Required Elements to Prove Negligence?
There are 4 elements in a negligence case. That means you have to prove 4 things to win your personal injury claim.
1. The Existence of a Legal Duty or Duty of Care (“Duty”)
The first element is that the defendant had a duty of care to you. Legal duty isn’t actually a very technical term. It can be boiled down to “don’t do things that can get someone hurt.” The legal duty in a car accident case is to drive carefully. In a slip and fall case, it’s for the store to keep their floors dry, or to warn customers of wet or other dangerous conditions. The question is, what would a reasonable person do to prevent accidents?
2. Breach of That Duty (“Breach”)
The next element is that the defendant breached the legal duty. This could be either that they did something or they didn’t do something. In a car accident case, it might be that they were speeding or distracted by their cell phone. If your toddler was injured at a daycare, it might mean that the daycare staff didn’t provide adequate supervision. This is also known as failing to exercise reasonable care.
3. You Were Injured (“Damages”)
In order to have a personal injury lawsuit, you have to damages in the form of bodily injury. If someone acts dangerously, in a way that could have harmed you, you have the right to be angry. They may even have committed a criminal act you can call the police for, such as drunk driving. However, without an actual injury, you don’t have anything to sue for.
You have to be able to prove a financial loss because of your injury. Your financial loss can include your medical bills, your lost wages if you had to miss work, your lost future earnings if you were disabled and couldn’t return to the same job, or loss of enjoyment of your life if you could no longer participate in certain activities. In a wrongful death case, the damages might include paying off any medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of financial support, and loss of consortium. Damages for an accident can also include property damage as a result of the accident.
If you don’t have any financial losses, you don’t have a dollar amount to put on your lawsuit and wouldn’t be able to win anything in court.
4. The Defendant’s Breach Caused Your Injury (“Causation”)
You also have to prove that the defendant’s breach of their duty is what caused you to get hurt. For example, even in a murder trial where the defendant shot someone on video, they still have to bring in a doctor to testify that the gunshot is what caused the victim’s death. In many personal injury cases, causation is also an easy step. For example, if you break your arm falling on a wet floor in a store, it’s easy to show that your arm wasn’t broken before, it was broken in the fall, and it’s an injury people often get from falling.
There are two issues where proving causation might be difficult.
- Would the injury have happened anyway? For example, say a car with the right of way is driving over the speed limit when you pull out in front of them. Their defense is that they wouldn’t have been able to stop even if they were driving at the speed limit, so their breach of speeding laws didn’t cause your injury. You would have to prove that they would have been able to stop in time or that your injuries wouldn’t have been as bad if they hadn’t been speeding.
- Was there a proximate cause of an injury? Sometimes, the cause can be clear, such as a car crashing into another. But, what if you crash into a light pole just after avoiding an accident? If you crashed because you were trying to avoid the other car, they caused your injury. If you crashed just down the road because you were speeding or using your phone, the other car didn’t cause your injury, even if you did something like change lanes to avoid them.
How Do You Prove Someone is Negligent?
In order to prove that someone is negligent, you need to introduce evidence proving each of the 4 elements of negligence. This includes showing how and why your injuries happened, what your injuries were, and the dollar value of your damages.
In most cases, you will use a combination of witnesses to your accident, other evidence like photos and videos, and expert testimony from doctors or other people who can say why the defendant is responsible for the accident. An experienced personal injury trial lawyer will help you to identify and gather the evidence you need to prove your case.
Get Help from an Experienced Accident Lawyer.
If you’ve been injured by someone’s negligent actions, Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law can help you prove your case. To learn more about what you need to do and what you can recover, call us now at (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000.