Negligence In A Car Accident And Its Effect On Your Personal Injury Case
The majority of accidents happen because someone was not following the rules of the road or being careless while driving. Generally speaking, if two drivers were involved in an accident and Driver A was more careless than Driver B, then Driver A must pay for some if not all of the damages suffered by Driver B. The problem is usually trying to figure out who was in fact legally responsible can be pretty complicated especially when certain defenses can be raised.
What Is Negligence?
Negligence is when someone acts or fails to act reasonably in a given situation. The “reasonable person” standard is a legal fiction created to define our community’s views on how a reasonable person in the community should have behaved in a given situation. Anyone that falls short of the reasonable person standard can be found negligent since their action or inaction was careless or reckless and caused someone harm.
How Do I Prove Negligence in A Personal Injury Case?
To win a negligence action in court you must prove the four elements of negligence. They are 1) establishing a legal duty or obligation 2) breach of that duty 3) establishing a direct connection (factual causation) between the acts of the defendant and the damages or harm sustained 4) damages or showing that there was financial loss.
An example of a negligence case is a motorist that runs a red light and collides with a vehicle causing injury to another driver that had a green light and the legal right to proceed through the intersection. Taking into account the elements listed above, the duty owed is that all motorists are required to obey the rules of the road and drive carefully so that other motorists are not put in danger. The motorist in our example breached that duty when he ran the red light. The factual connection is that the motorist’s act of running the red light directly caused the injuries to the other motorist. Damages are proved by showing property damage to the vehicle and/or injury to the other driver.
A negligence action can usually be proven through direct evidence or circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence does not require making inferences and proves or disproves facts directly. Some examples of direct evidence include an eyewitness that saw the events and have firsthand knowledge or a video of the accident. On the other hand, circumstantial evidence requires the drawing of inferences and does not prove or disprove a fact directly; for example, a photograph in which a car’s front end is smashed in. A fact finder (juror) would assess both direct and indirect evidence to determine whether there was negligence in a given case.
What Defenses Can I Raise In A Negligence Case?
The primary question then in a car accident is figuring out which driver’s actions were unreasonable under the circumstances. The answers are not always so easy to figure out in personal injury cases and the facts and evidence might not be so black and white like the example given above.
Usually a defendant (one who is defending the claims brought against him) in a negligence case tries to refute one of the four elements that the plaintiff is trying to prove. The defendant will try and show that no duty was owed, reasonable care was exercised, there was no direct factual link or that the plaintiff did not suffer damages as alleged.
Under traditional law the defendant can raise two other defenses in negligence cases. They are (a) comparative fault in where you try and prove that the other party was also negligent and (b) assumption of risk where you argue that the plaintiff “assumed the risk” when involved or engaged in some dangerous activity.
Comparative fault shows that the plaintiff’s conduct fell below certain standards of care and that the plaintiff has also contributed or cooperated with the defendant for the harm sustained. In the case above where the motorist ran a red light, if the other motorist was speeding or talking on a cell phone than an argument could be made that the plaintiff driver was contributed to the negligence. Comparative negligence means that although the defendant may have caused the accident, the plaintiff driver may share in the fault. This means that damages will be apportioned based on the amount of fault of each driver.
If using assumption of risk as a defense, the attorney needs very specific information about the accident, the plaintiff and his behavior or mindset on the day of the accident. Specifically the attorney must argue that the plaintiff knew the risks and consequences of taking certain action. If an attorney can prove assumption of risk in your case than it can act as a complete bar to recovery for the other party.
Adam H. Rosenblum is a licensed personal injury attorney in both New York and New Jersey. Adam frequently deals with cases of people who are injured in a car accident.