What is Negligence

Negligence is the cornerstone of most personal injury claims. You must prove the other party acted negligently before you can recover compensation for your injuries. If you cannot prove each of the legal elements of negligence, the other party is not financially liable for damages. 

Therefore, it is helpful to understand the legal theory of negligence and how to prove negligence if you intend to file a personal injury lawsuit. Your accident attorney handles the legal matters, but understanding some of the terms used during your case can lessen your stress and anxiety about the case. 

Defining Negligence for a Personal Injury Claim

Most personal injury claims are based on the legal theory of negligence. A person is negligent when that person fails to exercise the same level of care that a person with ordinary prudence would use in a similar situation. Negligence covers actions and omissions (failure to act). 

For example, a person with ordinary prudence would not drive while under the influence of alcohol or allow a vicious dog to roam the neighborhood. A reasonably prudent person generally acts in a manner that avoids causing injury or harm to another person or increasing the risk that a person could be injured or harmed.

How Do I Prove That Someone Acted Negligently?

Proving negligence in a personal injury case requires that you have evidence creating a chain of causation. The chain of causation links the four legal elements of negligence together to create legal liability for damages. 

Proving negligence in California requires that you provide evidence that establishes: 

Duty of Care

A duty of care must exist between the parties for a negligence claim. A duty of care is the legal requirement to act with the same level of care that a reasonable, prudent person would use in the same or similar situation.

For example, medical providers have a duty of care to provide care that meets or exceeds the medical standard of care for the specific situation. 

Drivers owe a duty of care to other motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians to follow all traffic laws and operate the vehicle in a manner consistent with safe driving behaviors. Property owners owe guests, visitors, and others entering the property a duty to maintain the premises in a safe condition.

Before you can move to the second element of negligence, you must establish that the at-fault party owed you a duty of care. Otherwise, you cannot prove a negligence claim.

Breach of the Duty of Care

Breaching the duty of care means that the party acted or failed to act with reasonable care. The breach placed the victim in danger of being harmed or injured.

Examples of breaching the duty of care might include:

  • A driver running a red light and causing a pedestrian accident
  • A nursing home allows a known sex offender to work at the facility because it failed to conduct a background check 
  • A restaurant failing to follow health codes for food safety, thereby causing food poisoning
  • A construction company failing to secure the site to prevent a child from entering a building under construction
  • A dog owner failing to keep the dog on a leash when in public
  • A boat owner failing to have life jackets on board the boat
  • A manufacturer failing to perform adequate tests to determine if the product is defective

When a party breaches the duty of care, accidents and injuries may occur. Proving that the breach of duty was the cause of the incident that resulted in the injury is the next link in proving negligence. 


The party’s breach of duty must have been the direct and proximate cause of the person’s injury. In other words, the party’s action directly led to the accident or situation that resulted in harm to the person.

For example, an amusement park fails to perform routine maintenance and testing on one of its rides. Therefore, a malfunction in the equipment is not discovered until after an accident occurs. The accident results in the death of one of the people on the ride. 

The amusement park breached the duty of care by failing to maintain the rides for the safety of park guests. That failure resulted in an amusement park accident that killed a person. The person’s family files a wrongful death claim seeking damages because of the park’s negligence. 

The above example of causation is a very simple, straightforward situation. Proving causation can be difficult in many personal injury cases. The victim may not have sufficient evidence to link the breach of duty to the cause of the accident or injury.

In the example above about the restaurant and the food poisoning, the restaurant owner may claim that the food was contaminated before it arrived at the restaurant. If you do not have evidence proving the owner failed to follow health and food safety regulations, it could be challenging to prove the restaurant is liable for your damages.


The last element of a negligence claim damage. Damages refer to the harm caused to you because of the accident and injury. If you were not injured or harmed, you would not recover compensation for your claim.

When a person is injured, that person almost always sustains some damages. Damages in a personal injury claim can include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical injuries, such as brain damage, burn injuries, and spinal injuries
  • Emotional, mental, and physical pain and suffering
  • Loss of income and benefits
  • Permanent scarring, disfigurement, disability, and impairments
  • Cost of long-term care, ongoing medical care, and personal care
  • Assistance with activities of daily living and household chores
  • Decreases in earning potential
  • Loss of enjoyment of life and decreased quality of life

The value of your personal injury claim depends on your injuries, financial losses, and other factors. Generally, catastrophic injuries and permanent disabilities increase the value of a personal injury claim. You need documentation to prove each of the damages that you include in your injury claim. 

The other party might allege that you contributed to the cause of the injury. California’s comparative fault laws do not bar you from recovering compensation for your injuries if you contributed to the cause of the accident. However, your compensation is reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to you for causing the accident. 

Call Our California Personal Injury Lawyers for a Free Consultation 

It can take time to complete a thorough investigation to gather evidence proving negligence for an accident claim. Your time to sue another party for damages is limited by the California Statute of Limitations. Most personal injury lawsuits must be filed within two years of the injury date, but some deadlines could be shorter.

Do not delay in seeking legal advice about an injury claim, our experienced car accident attorney at Mission Personal Injury Lawyers can help you with your case. Contact our law office at (619) 777-5555 to schedule a free consultation.