Is It Hard to Prove Negligence?

Negligence can cause lasting damage to a person’s life and even take it. Medical errors alone due to negligence cause anywhere from 250,000 to 440,000 deaths each year in the United States. It’s also a leading cause of other types of accidents, especially those involving motorists. If you’re a victim of negligence and are seeking compensation, it can be hard to prove negligence. However, it is possible to do so if you take the right steps to build your case.

What is Negligence?

The legal definition of negligence is somewhat open-ended, but covers the duty of someone to take sufficient and reasonable precautions to prevent harm to another. Included in this definition is the concept of duty to act and to sufficiently warn a plaintiff of a danger to them. Negligence has four conditions that must be fulfilled to qualify as such:

  • A defendant has a legal duty to a plaintiff
  • A defendant breaches this duty
  • The plaintiff suffers damages as a result
  • This damage is the result of the defendant failing to fulfill their duty

Negligence and malice can lead to injuries (source). When this happens, the injured party can file a personal injury lawsuit to get compensation for their damages. In order to do this, you must prove negligence on the part of the at-fault party. However, one thing you must do is demonstrate that they did not take precautions that a “reasonable person” would have.

What is a “Reasonable Person?”

A “reasonable person” is a purposefully subjective construct that allows for interpretation by a third party, such as a jury, for each particular case. Industry standards provide a common metric by which to judge the actions of a defendant. In some instances juries will default to common sense to determine what a reasonable course of action by a defendant would look like. If a person did not behave reasonably, they may have been in breach of their duty to the plaintiff.

What is a Breach of Duty?

Breaches of duty in cases of negligence are determined by an application of Hand’s Formula, which is B < PL. In this formula, each letter means the following:

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  • B is the defendant’s burden and what it would take to take sufficient precautions to safeguard the plaintiff’s welfare
  • P is the probability the plaintiff will suffer a loss should they engage in the action in question
  • L is the loss that the plaintiff suffers

The defendant can be found guilty of negligence if the burden of taking precautions to protect the plaintiff were less than the loss suffered by the plaintiff multiplied by its likelihood. This implies that in some situations with a minimal risk and where the plaintiff suffers enormous damages, the defendant may not be guilty of negligence.

What Evidence Do I Need to Prove Negligence?

For plaintiffs, the good news is that you don’t necessarily need a large burden of proof that you have collected to prove that you suffered a loss due to negligence.

Courts abide by a legal doctrine known as res ipsa loquitur, or “the thing speaks for itself.” This allows a court to look at the available evidence and make a determination as to the cause of the loss is obvious. This can occur even in cases where the available evidence is highly circumstantial and with no individual clearly culpable for an action that led to the injury.

While negligence cases can be relatively simple to prove in some instances, many will be fought in court. Securing legal representation now can put you in the best position to fight for your rights and the compensation you are entitled to.

Comments 4

  1. myra fender says:

    I am the wife of an 85 year old retired minister who had a 403B annuity at Edward Jones. This 403B retirement account was funded by the church my husband served for 30 years. About two and a half years ago when he retired, the Edward Jones financial advisor told him he should roll over the 403B to an IRA, telling him distribution would be more simple and overall more beneficial to him.
    Recently, he learned from the young minister who replaced him that the retirement plan to which he contributed had told him he could still claim his housing allowance as tax deductible. We investigated and found this was true! However, the requirement was ONLY if the plan continued as a 403B. My housing allowance was $30,000 per year, Not claiming it amounted to thousands more dollars in taxes owed. Multiply this over the years of payout and you can see this amounts to quite a bit of money.
    Edward Jones advertises expert financial advice in the area of retirement. I believe negligence was involved here. Either the advisor knew this information or he should have known it. I believe Edward Jones failed to properly train their reps.
    Am I wrong in believing negligence was involved here? Note: when this was brought to the attention of a subsequent advisor, her response was essentially, “oh, my, sorry, too bad.”

  2. RescueMr.Dam'svictim says:

    I am the victim of a farm animal owner’s negligence. I did not know he was going to have a farm and he had stalked me and gotten my daughter kidnapped previous to the farm negligence. I had a justice of the peace over because since I had gotten a divorce previous to him following me for years at my apartment I thought it might be easier to end the abuse by divorce. Police in this “rural” though not really that rural because I’m 2 hours from Boston and New York claim that its my fault I am being abused and tried to blow me off to call 211 or drive away. Only one report was made and they insinuated that it was because I was a married housed person that it was my fault. I had been at school and work so did not have to be around the negligence and assaults. The only way my family and friends would know what really happened because I was stalked then abused is with a dead body since we’re isolated.

  3. Eric says:

    I’m a former foster child living as an adult who believes my assigned social agency was neglectful in not addressing my mental health needs. and was habitually neglectful in the manner in which they oversaw my case and the infrequent home visits to monitor my well-being. Basically the agency would bring me to places and just leave me. In many cases the situation became so aggregious I didn’t even know I still had a social worker from the initial agency I was placed with from birth.

  4. Cee Berry says:

    This article helped a lot …thanks Mr Murphy…

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