In our Mesa Arizona personal injury practice, the most common question we get from potential clients is some form of “I was injured, do I have a case?”
In typical lawyer fashion, the general response is, “It depends.”
In most personal injury cases where a person has suffered physical injury (and even emotional harm) or “damages,” the most common theory of liability for which the injured person will be able to recover compensation is the theory of “negligence.”
WHAT IS NEGLIGENCE?
To make a valid claim for negligence, the injured person needs to show or prove the existence of four separate elements. The party making the claim for compensation needs to show
- That the party who caused the harm owed a duty of care to the injured party
- That the duty was breached
- That the breach of the duty caused the injury or damages
- That there actually were injuries or monetary damages.
DUTY OF CARE
Generally speaking, everybody owes a duty of care to prevent foreseeable risk of harm to all other people. The basic standard of care is to act as a reasonable person would in the same or similar circumstances. (However, depending on the person or the entity involved, the standard of care or duty owed may be different.)
As an example, the most common type of personal injury claim typically involves drivers in an auto accident. All drivers owe a duty of care to all of the other drivers and pedestrians on the road. In other words, a driver must drive as a reasonable person would in the same or similar circumstances.
A breach of the duty of care occurs when a person falls below the applicable standard of care. Stated differently, a person breaches his or her duty of care to another person when he or she fails to act a reasonable person would under similar circumstances.
Using our auto accident example above, if a driver is speeding or runs a red light and hits another vehicle, it could easily be said that the driver’s conduct fell below the standard of care. The driver failed to act as a reasonable person would have acted in a similar situation.
In addition to showing that there existed a duty of care and that that duty was breached, an injured party must also show that the breach of the duty of care “caused” the injury or the damages. A person making a personal injury claim must show that the other person was the actual cause of the injuries or the damages.
Again, in the case of the typical auto accident, it could easily be shown that the driver who runs a red light and hits another driver actually caused the damage to the other vehicle. That is a very simple case. However, if there is an intervening event or cause prior to the harm or damages occurring, the driver who breached the duty of care might only be able to limit of his or her liability.
Damages are for the most part are straight-forward. Damages may include past and future medical expenses, past and future lost income, past and future pain and suffering, and/or property damage. The person who breached his or her duty of care and caused the injury or damages is responsible for the full extent of the injuries or damages.
If you believe you have suffered injuries or damages as a result of someone else’s negligence, call us for a free consultation. We can assess your case with no up-front cost and we can likely handle your claim with no out-of-pocket cost to you.