We all have an idea of what negligence means. For example, we know a neglected child when we see one, we can all identify that one neglected house on our street, and we know what happens when we neglect our health or our finances. But what does negligence mean in the legal sense?
Negligence and its elements
Legal negligence constitutes more than simply not taking adequate care of something. It means failing to adhere to a minimum standard of conduct in a way that causes measurable harm to another person. Lawyers and judges look for four elements of negligence:
- Duty. In legal theory, everyone owes a duty to everyone else. At base, everyone has the duty to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances. For example, while it may seem sensible to you to speed home to feed the dog before you call AAA because your power steering and brakes have just failed, a reasonable person in the same circumstances would probably get off the road right away to avoid endangering himself and other drivers.
- Breach. Breach is a violation of the duty owed. To continue the example from above, your duty as driver of a vehicle that has suddenly lost its power steering and brakes is probably to move your vehicle out of traffic as quickly and safely as possible. Failing to do this constitutes a breach of your duty to the other drivers on the road.
- Cause. Legal cause encompasses two concepts. Factual causation means that your breach of duty set in motion a chain of events that otherwise would not have occurred. Proximate cause assumes factual causation and examines whether your breach was closely related enough to the resultant injury. For example, if your reckless driving compels another driver to leave his or her usual route and take a detour through a bad neighborhood where he or she suffers an assault and carjacking, there may be factual causation—she would never have taken that detour if you stopped driving when you should have—but no proximate cause.
- Damage. Finally, legal negligence requires a showing of damages. If your poor driving merely frightens the other drivers on the road, but does not cause any accidents or injuries, the final element of negligence is missing—except under very special and limited circumstances, the law does not consider merely being afraid of something a measurable injury.
Experienced Indianapolis personal injury lawyers working for you
If you have a negligence case in Indiana, you need to work with an attorney who knows Indiana personal injury law inside and out. The Indianapolis personal injury attorneys at Ward & Ward have nearly 80 years of combined experience working to ensure that personal injury victims in Indiana get the attention they deserve and the financial security they need.
If you or a loved one suffered an injury because of another’s negligence or recklessness, Ward & Ward, Attorneys invite you to contact them as soon as possible to arrange a free initial consultation about your case, by phone at 888-316-3449, through their website, or simply by visiting their conveniently located Indianapolis office.