“Negligence” is a legal term that often equates to “carelessness.” It is by far the most common basis for a personal injury claim. These claims rely on a well-defined body of law.
It is important that you understand negligence before you begin pursuing a claim that you might have.
Louisiana case law recognizes five legal elements of a negligence claim–duty of care, breach of duty, damages, actual cause, and proximate cause.
Duty of Care
Almost every adult owes other people a duty to exercise enough care to prevent themselves from harming others. A driver, for example, has a duty not to follow other vehicles too closely.
Professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, are held to an elevated professional duty of care while they are practicing their profession. Imagine the disparity in the duty of care expected of a non-doctor who performs first aid at the scene of a truck accident versus the standard of care expected of a doctor in a hospital. Medical malpractice is the most common professional negligence claim.
Breach of Duty
You breach a duty by failing to meet its demands. This can happen by act or omission. “By act” means doing something you shouldn’t do; “by omission” means not doing something you should have done.
You typically must suffer an injury or loss to maintain a personal injury claim. Once you prove injury or loss, you can also demand damages for psychological harm, such as emotional distress. You must prove all of your damages.
Cause in Fact
The defendant’s breach of duty must be the cause in fact of the damages you suffered. You must prove that you likely wouldn’t have suffered an injury if the defendant hadn’t breached their duty.
The defendant’s breach of duty must also have been the proximate cause of your damages. Louisiana law does not seek to impose liability upon a defendant who unwittingly set in motion a chain of events that injured you in an unpredictable way. In other words, you likely can’t win a personal injury claim based on a freak, unforeseeable accident.
The Burden of Proof: “A Preponderance of the Evidence”
If the state charges you with DUI, it must prove you guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If someone sues you for personal injury arising from a DUI accident, they must prove you liable by a “preponderance of the evidence.”
It is much easier to meet the “preponderance of the evidence” standard than to meet the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. It’s so much easier, in fact, that it is common for someone to win an acquittal for a crime but bear liability for a personal injury arising from the same course of conduct.
Sometimes, the victim is also at fault. Louisiana is a pure comparative negligence state that allows victims to recover compensation even if they are also at fault.
Suppose you sue a defendant, and the court finds you 25% at fault. In that case, you will lose 25% of your compensation. If you were 99% at fault, you will lose 99% of your compensation. In this way, both parties to a negligence claim might have a claim against the other. In that case, the court will set one amount off against the other and order one party to pay the remainder to the other.
Negligence Per Se
“Negligence per se” is a shortcut to proving negligence. In negligence per se, you substitute the common sense “duty of care” with a safety statute or regulation. If you can prove the defendant violated the statute or regulation, then they are automatically negligent. In a car accident case, for example, the defendant might have violated a traffic law.
Proving negligence, however, will only get you halfway to proving liability. You must also prove that you suffered damages, and you must prove that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of your damages.
Gross negligence is simply extreme negligence. There is no clear dividing line between ordinary negligence and gross negligence. It depends on what a court decides or what the parties negotiate, as the case may be.
Talk to a Baton Rouge Personal Injury Lawyer About Negligence
Some cases are worth a lot more than they appear, while others are worth a lot less. To understand the value of your negligence claim, your best bet is to schedule an initial consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. Contact Palmintier Law Group today to schedule your free case evaluation.
A car accident in Baton Rouge can cause incapacitating or even fatal injuries. Contact Palmintier Law Group right away for a free consultation to discuss your car crash and how we can help you pursue compensation for your injuries.