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What Are the 4 Elements of Negligence in Personal Injury Cases?

4 Elements of Negligence in a Personal injury Case

If someone injured you due to their carelessness—whether in a car accident, slip and fall, or another preventable incident—you may have grounds to sue for compensation.

To do so, one of the first things you or your personal injury lawyer has to do is prove “negligence”—a fancy word meaning someone failed to fulfill a responsibility they owed you, directly leading to an injury that caused losses.

Negligence is further broken into four elements in personal injury law:

  1. Duty of Care: The person or company had an obligation to keep you safe, such as driving carefully.
  2. Breach of Duty: They failed to provide the required care, like texting while driving.
  3. Causation: That failure directly led to the accident and your injury.
  4. Damages: Because of their breach, you suffered expenses and hardship.

But what do these terms actually mean in practice? In this blog, our lawyers at Pickford Law explain the four elements of negligence in plain terms so you understand what to prove to achieve justice.

Duty of Care: What Obligations Did the Defendant Have Towards You?

The first element in any Tennessee negligence case is establishing that the defendant owed you a duty of care. This simply means they had an obligation to act reasonably and avoid causing harm to others.

Some duties of care are fairly obvious:

  • Drivers have a duty to drive safely and avoid hitting pedestrians and other motorists.
  • Doctors have a duty to diagnose and treat patients based on reasonable medical standards.
  • Property owners have a duty to maintain their premises in a safe condition.

The law recognizes many formal duties of care, but there can also be informal duties, especially between parties in a special relationship. For example, parents have a duty to supervise and protect their children.

In Tennessee, even complete strangers have a general duty of care to avoid unreasonably putting others at risk of harm. Determining if a duty existed is very case-specific, but our personal injury attorneys can evaluate the unique details of your accident and advise if a duty of care can be established.

Breach of Duty: How Specifically Was the Duty of Care Violated?

Once we’ve determined that a duty of care existed between you and the defendant, the next element is showing how exactly they breached that duty.

There are many ways a responsible party can breach their obligation and fail to act with reasonable care:

  • Drivers can speed, ignore traffic signals, drive distracted, etc.
  • Doctors may misdiagnose a condition, delay treatment, or leave surgical tools inside a patient.
  • Property owners can fail to fix hazards like wet floors, poor lighting, unsafe stairs, etc.

Essentially, the breach of duty occurs when the defendant acts or fails to act in a way that a reasonable person would not be in the same situation. Their actions have fallen below the “standard of care” we expect from members of society. Figuring out the precise negligent actions or inaction is crucial to proving your injury claim.

For professionals like doctors and tradespeople, the standard of care is determined by common practices and protocols within their industry. For average people like drivers, it’s usually measured by what any prudent person would do.

Our firm can use legal tools like expert testimony and affidavits to clearly demonstrate how and why the defendant failed to act with reasonable care based on the circumstances.

Causation: Did the Defendant’s Negligence Directly Cause Your Injuries?

After establishing a duty and breach in your Tennessee personal injury case, we have to prove causation. This critical negligence element looks at whether the defendant’s breach of duty directly led to the accident and injuries you sustained. Proving both factual and legal causation is key here.

Factual Causation

Factual causation means showing that “but for” the defendant’s negligent actions, you would not have been harmed. For example, a delivery driver speeding causes him to hit your car – the accident and your injuries would not have happened if he drove the speed limit.

Legal Causation

Legal causation delves into foreseeability – could the defendant reasonably foresee their negligent actions causing this type of accident and injury? For instance, a grocery store owner fails to promptly clean up a spill. A foreseeable result is someone slipping and falling in the puddle. But they likely could not foresee the spill causing an overhead light fixture to come loose and hit someone.

Our personal injury attorneys thoroughly investigate accidents to establish clear causal links between the defendant’s breach of duty and the client’s injuries. Police reports, witness statements, accident reconstructions, and expert testimonies are all tools we utilize to prove causation.

Damages: How Were You Specifically Harmed by the Accident?

The final negligence element is tangible damages. Your injury claim must prove that real losses occurred as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty.

Typical damages we assist clients in recovering compensation for include:

  • Medical expenses like hospital bills, prescriptions, physical therapy
  • Lost income from missed work due to injuries
  • Loss of future earnings capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Permanent disability or disfigurement
  • Loss of enjoyment/quality of life
  • Property losses like vehicle repair bills or damaged personal items

Documenting every accident-related expense and loss is critical. Our staff have extensive experience gathering evidence like medical records, income tax returns, property estimates, and expert assessments.

We’ll then calculate and justify an appropriate dollar amount for all your damages. This comprehensive approach is vital for holding negligent parties fully accountable.

Connecting the Legal Dots With Pickford Law

Proving negligence and obtaining compensation in Tennessee involves connecting some legal dots – establishing duty, breach, causation, and quantifiable damages.

With years of assisting injured victims in our state, our accomplished personal injury attorneys at Pickford Law have mastered this process.

If you or a loved one were harmed due to another’s negligence, contact our office for a free consultation. Having an award-winning legal team in your corner can make all the difference in reaching the most favorable outcome in your case.

Contact our office today for a free case review.

Author Bio

Shalondra Grandberry Pickford

Shalondra Grandberry Pickford is a highly skilled attorney and the founder of Pickford Law. Her legal practice is committed to representing clients on various legal matters, including social security disability, veterans’ disability, estate planning, and personal injury. With over ten years of experience in law and a license to practice in Tennessee and Arkansas, Shalondra is committed to providing personalized and effective legal representation to each client.

Shalondra received her Juris Doctorate from The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and is a member of the Tennessee and Arkansas State Bar Associations. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including the exclusive Rising Stars award from Super Lawyers in 2017 and again in 2022.

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