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Negligence

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The Four Elements of Negligence and How They Apply to Lawsuits in Arizona

Engaging with the world requires facing unpredictability. Driving a car, going to the store, or walking down the street are activities that contain some degree of risk due to the behavior of others. In the United States, unintentional injuries are the third leading cause of death. However, the country's legal system has a designated area of law to deal with these situations. Victims of careless behavior do have rights.

Tort law is the legal area that deals with civil liability and personal injury suits. In these cases, negligence is the term that describes careless actions. If an individual or business acts with a disregard for the safety of others, their behavior can be characterized as negligent. When negligence leads to harm, a personal injury lawsuit can recover compensation for victims of such behavior.

Proving that negligence was the cause of an injury can be a tricky process. There are certain factors that must be proven to earn compensation for victims. Keep reading for an overview of how negligence cases are undertaken in Arizona.

What Are the Four Elements of Negligence?

In a nutshell, personal injury cases involve the victim of negligence (the plaintiff), demonstrating that another entity's negligent actions (the defendant) caused their injuries. For the plaintiff to receive compensation and hold the defendant liable, a personal injury lawsuit must prove that the four elements of negligence exist in the situation.

Element #1: Duty of Care

To begin, the plaintiff's case must establish a duty of care. There are legal relationships where one party owes a duty to act responsibly toward another. This responsibility is referred to as the standard of care, which states that one must conduct themselves with good judgment, consideration, and intelligence to prevent causing harm to another. Summed up, it is an expectation to act as a reasonable person.

The plaintiff must prove that such a relationship exists between themselves and the defendant. For example, grocery stores owe their shoppers a duty of care. The store must keep safe conditions in order to prevent shoppers from experiencing injuries. Another instance takes place on roadways. All drivers must follow traffic laws to prevent accidents from occurring.

While some relationships are easy to define, others are not so clear-cut. Specific Arizona negligence cases have determined that the duty of care…

  1. Cannot be presumed, and every negligence case must demonstrate that such a duty existed
  2. Foreseeability, or the likelihood that someone could have predicted the results of their actions, is not a factor that determines whether a duty existed
  3. The duty of care is based on relationships that common law recognizes or relationships that public policy has established
  4. State and federal statutes are the primary sources for identifying the existence of a duty, and in the absence of these statutes common law is used as the basis for establishing the existence of the duty

Every case has its own circumstances. For this reason, it is essential to consult with experienced legal counsel to establish the specific duty of care that exists in your case. This element of negligence is the first factor that determines if there is a possible suit. Without a defined duty of care, the following elements of negligence cannot be satisfied.

Element #2: Show a Breach of Duty

After the duty of care has been established, the plaintiff must show how the defendant violated this duty. A breach of duty means that the defendant did not act with the standard of care designated for the proven relationship between themselves and the plaintiff.

Examples of breaches are broad and can include instances such as:

  • Driving while intoxicated
  • Ignoring traffic laws and signage, such as running red lights or making illegal turns
  • Commercial locations that do not warn customers about known dangerous conditions

To prove a breach, the plaintiff's case must factually demonstrate how the defendant acted irrationally, carelessly, or ignorantly. For this, Personal injury attorneys work to recover evidence such as witness statements, police reports, or security footage.

Element #3: Prove Causation

The third element that needs to be satisfied is causation. This is the part of the case where the plaintiff proves that the breach of duty directly caused their injury. Causation involves two concepts: cause-in-fact, and scope of liability.

Cause-in-fact describes how the injury took place because of the defendant's negligent actions. The plaintiff must show that the injury wouldn't have transpired if the defendant hadn't breached their duty of care. If there were numerous factors involved in the injury, the plaintiff must prove that the breach was a substantial factor in the injury.

The second concept is the scope of liability. This concept works to more accurately define causation. The court must determine that the defendant's actions were the proximate, or closest cause of the damage. If the plaintiff's injuries could have been predicted to occur by the defendant when they acted negligently, then the injury falls within the scope of liability.

Let's say a driver runs a red light and causes an accident in which another driver suffers a broken arm. The plaintiff must prove that their broken arm wouldn't have happened if the defendant had not run the red light. It is fairly straightforward for the plaintiff's case to demonstrate that running a red light caused the injury. It is also a fair assumption that the defendant would have been able to predict that breaking the traffic law could lead to such an injury.

However, assume the plaintiff got into another car accident on the way to a doctor's appointment to treat their broken arm. Any damages they suffered from this accident would fall outside the scope of liability. Even though the second accident occurred when treating an injury directly caused by the original wreck, the defendant that caused the broken arm could not have predicted the second accident. The defendant's negligence when running the red light is not the proximate or most immediate cause of the second accident's damages.

Element #4: Demonstrate How the Defendant's Negligence Resulted in Injury or Damages

This final element is where the plaintiff proves that they did in fact suffer an injury, damage, or loss from the defendant's negligence. Compensatory damages describe what the plaintiff is owed in order to be repaid for the expenses they endured from the incident. There are two common types of compensatory damages: special damages and general damages.

Special damages are monetary losses that can be exactly calculated. Examples of special damages include all medical bills, wage losses, property damage, profit loss, or service loss. Future damages are also considered. If the plaintiff is expected to incur costs in the future from the incident, those costs need to be made up for as well.

General damages are losses that can't be exactly calculated in a dollar amount. This includes concepts such as pain and suffering, a breakdown of consortium, a deficit of earning potential, or decreased enjoyment of life.


Get the Best Legal Help to Put All the Elements Together

The elements of negligence are intertwined, meaning they must all be present to have a possible personal injury case. Receiving an injury in a car accident is not enough evidence on its own to earn financial compensation. Your case must demonstrate that the other party had a duty to act responsibly and that they breached this duty, therefore directly causing your injuries and resulting in provable losses.

Victims of negligence have enough to worry about- navigating Arizona's negligence laws does not have to be done alone. Getting in touch with reputable, friendly, and effective legal counsel is a phone call away. Glazer Hammond is a firm dedicated to serving its clients. Attorney Keith Hammond has the experience to earn you all the compensation you're entitled to in your Northern Arizona personal injury case. If you believe you have a possible personal injury suit, get in touch with Glazer Hammond anytime and move forward toward compensation.

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