Negligence & Personal Injuries in Pennsylvania
To hold another party legally liable for a personal injury, you must be able to prove their negligence caused it. Negligence is a term that refers to a party’s failure to exercise the reasonable care expected of them in a particular situation. To hold them accountable and recover compensation, you must be able to establish the four elements of negligence: duty of care, breach of care, causation, and damages.
What Is The Duty of Care in a Personal Injury Case?
A personal injury case can only exist if the defendant (at-fault party) owed the victim a duty of care when they contributed to or caused their injury. A duty of care refers to a person’s legal obligation to exercise the reasonable care that another person would under the circumstances to prevent harm to others. Duty of care distinguishes an unavoidable accident from a preventable accident.
The duty of care a defendant owes is unique to each case. For example:
- Car Accident Case: Drivers owe others on the road a duty of care to drive their vehicle safely and follow traffic laws.
- Medical Malpractice Case: Healthcare providers owe a duty of care to patients to possess and extend the same training and skills as a similar healthcare provider in their community, etc.
- Premises Liability Case: Property owners owe visitors a duty to keep their premises reasonably safe from hazards.
How Do Attorneys Show a Breach of Duty Occurred?
A breach of duty of care is a defendant’s failure to demonstrate the reasonable care expected of them. A breach of duty can be a lack of action to prevent injury or a wrongful action that resulted in an injury. Each case will call for a higher or lower standard of care. As a result, whether or not the defendant behaved “reasonably” or violated their duty in a given situation is often the most contested issue in a personal injury claim.
To show whether a duty of care was breached, an attorney will have to establish the duty owed by the defendant and then how it was violated. Some examples of cases and the evidence that shows a duty is breached include:
- Car Accident Case: Cell phone records that show the at-fault driver was texting while driving before the crash.
- Medical Malpractice Case: Eyewitness confirmation that a surgeon failed to check a patient’s chart, leading them to operate on the wrong patient.
- Premises Liability Case: Video surveillance footage shows a grocery store manager was aware of a spill and failed to clean it up within a reasonable amount of time, leading to a slip and fall.
Proximate cause is the third element of negligence that a plaintiff must prove. Doing so involves providing evidence that the defendant’s negligence directly caused your injury. In other words, you would not have been injured but for the defendant’s actions or lack thereof. In some cases, causation is straightforward, such as medical records that detail your transport from a car accident scene to the hospital where you were treated and the injuries you sustained. However, in other cases, proving proximate cause can be more complicated. For instance, linking your illness to a physician’s failure to diagnose it early on can be considerably complex and will often require expert medical testimony to prove.
The final element to prove negligence in a personal injury case is damages. Damages is the legal term referring to the losses you suffered as a result of the accident caused by the defendant. For example, that may include medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and more. If you did not suffer any losses that require reimbursement, the court cannot award damages.