Negligence lawsuits require certain criteria to win the case. Let's talk about what those are:
In personal injury law, there are lots of pieces that come together to make a winnable case. Mostly, cases are built on a theory of negligence, and negligence simply means that someone acted with unreasonable conduct to another person. Essentially, there is a standard conduct that all people must meet, and so for someone to violate the reasonable amount of respect toward another person, that could be considered negligence. We see everyday examples of when someone has been injured by someone and there was always a way that the person responsible for the harm could have prevented their fault. Sounds easy enough, right? Too bad the world just doesn't work this way. It is a reality that we will find ourselves in situations where someone acted negligent toward us, and we can question: "How do I get back what I lost?" Although some things, some people, and some moments in life are irreplaceable, the most we can ask for is retribution. This is why negligence cases exist.
Let's look a little more into the nitty gritty of negligence cases. They are made up of necessary components, think of a checklist...or even a working car as an example. A car is made up of elements that help it run successfully. It has an alternator, a transmission, and a fuel pump, to name a few. Would a car run without these necessary elements? No. Using this analogy, do you think a negligence case would work without its own required elements? If you answered no to this second question, you're on the right track. Give yourself a pat on the back and buckle in for a little lesson on the elements required to win a personal injury negligence case. However, if you do want a more detailed explanation of elements before you go forward, check out our general page on How Case Elements Work.
There are four specific required elements for a negligence case:
We've established that there are required elements for winning a negligence case, let's discuss specifically what these actually are. In these situations and when a case is brought forward, let's think about it in terms of the previously mentioned car analogy. For my car (my case) to run properly (win), I must have all of the parts (four elements in negligence cases). If I'm missing one part, my car is not going to run properly (I'll lose).
The four elements for a valid negligence case are:
These terms can seem complicated and sound like law jargon, but they really are defined by exactly what they mean. Duty, breach, causation, and damages, when you look at them as each individual elements, actually make sense. Duty is exactly that...duty. As mentioned above, most people in the world have a duty to not cause harm to someone else. So, one's duty is to be reasonable with those around him. Think about an employer: that employer has a duty to provide a safe work environment for his employee. Or even think about yourself: you have a normal duty in society to not harm another. This is a valid thing to consider with a negligence case--did someone have a duty to keep an injury from happening? Most likely, the answer will be yes. Most people have duties to act reasonably to other people. Now it works this way if the employer does not have worker's compensation for its employees. To see how that works when the employer does have worker's comp insurance, check out our other page here.
So, it seems that a likely follower to duty is breach, right? Absolutely. Without duty, there was nothing to breach. If do you bring forward a negligence case against someone else though, it is likely because he or she had a duty that was breached. Let's say an employer did not in fact provide safety gear for its employee, it becomes clear that when the employee has a subsequent injury on the job because of a lack of safety concern from the employer, that a duty was breached. Another example doesn't even have to do with an employer-employee relationship. Imagine someone is walking down the street, and a driver has a duty to not drive drunk and reckless, but regardless the walker is hit by the drunk driver. The walker suffered major injuries here because the driver breached his duty to not cause harm to another person.
Causation then becomes the next required element here. This just means you've got to find the proximate cause of the injuries in the incident. A proximate cause is the most accurate and main contributing cause. Sure, you'll express all the possible causes to the court when you bring forth a negligence case, but the proximate cause will be decided to win or lose your case. If the injured employee presents several causes against his employer--such as lack of safety gear, freshly mopped and therefore dangerous floors, not enough training--the jury will determine which cause was the proximate for the case. There is a common test they place on your possible presented causations, and this determines if there is a valid proximate cause. First, the jury will ask if this is a cause in fact. Was the lack of safety gear a true cause (in fact, a cause)? Was the mopped floor a cause? Was the lack of training the most reasonable cause? Then, if there is a cause deemed out of the facts, was it foreseeable? Foreseeability is important to juries. Could the employer have seen that not having safety gear could possibly cause an injury? Yeah, sure. That sounds like it was a cause in fact and that it was foreseeable to the employer. If there was not proximate cause however, you do not have a case you can win. You could have a duty that was breached, but if the proximate cause is not valid, then your case cannot be won. It's as simple as that.
Finally, we come to damages. This element is just as required and again just as valuable. When an employee gets injured, he may have unexpected medical bills and future lost wages, since he will not be able to work. These are the classic examples of damages. Damages is the legal term for losses and relief. The court systems are designed to assign a value to your losses/damages as compensation for what has happened. Based on the facts of your case, this last element is determined. If an employer had a duty to keep an employee from injury, that duty was breached, the proximate cause was the employer's lack of providing safety gear, then the damages could be determined as a financial payment for the losses you have suffered. This element may seem like it follows the other elements, but it is actually very important even standing alone as an element. If there are no damages, you will not win your case. The court systems do not want to hear a case where you were almost harmed. The same goes for the drunk driver example mentioned above; if the driver nearly hit the person walking, but did not actually make contact, there is no winnable case here because there are no damages. The courts do not want to listen to cases that have missing elements, that wastes money and time.
It's just that simple...
Taking into account these four required elements, you won't need a law textbook to find out if you have a case that will lose or win. Just know that these elements are valuable on their own and combined. Without them all, simply put, you cannot win your negligence case.
Related Articles of Interest:
- How Does Sovereign Immunity Work Under Texas Law?
- What Burden of Proof Does Texas Civil Law Use?
- In Texas, How Does Litigating a Personal Injury Case Work?