How Case Elements Work Under Texas Law:
Every specific type of case (e.g. car accident case, work injury case, medical malpractice case) is made up of individual components called "elements." In this article, we're going to explain what case elements are. But to be frank, explaining what elements are is actually really tricky. It's a simple concept, sure enough, but it's difficult to put into words. So to help aid your understanding of what elements of a case are, we'll begin by explaining the concept of elements with an analogy.
Forget about injury cases and the law for a second and instead think of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What makes it a PBJ, really? Is it just the peanut butter? No. Is it just the jelly? No. Is it just the bread? Of course not. Indeed, what makes it a PBJ sandwich is ALL of those things combined. In other words, the elements of a PBJ sandwich are peanut butter, jelly, and bread.
Well, legal cases work the same way. A case for slander, just like a PBJ, is made up of individual elements. And just the same way that taking away one of the elements from a PBJ sandwich makes it into something other than a PBJ, not having all of the elements of a slander case means you don't really have a slander case at all, which brings us to the main point of this article: Every different type of legal case is made up of elements, and you've got to prove to the court that your case features all of the elements or you can't win. Period.
Questions Answered on This Page:
- What are the elements of a negligence case in the state of Texas?
- How do personal injury case elements work?
- How are case elements proven?
Think of case elements like a checklist.
Let's imagine that your town has such a bad problem with pet alligator attacks that it makes a new alligator law. Built into this law is a provision that allows people injured by pet alligators to sue the alligator's owner for $10,000. In the wording of the law, it states that in order to win such a case a victim must prove that:
- the alligator was owned by a citizen of the town
- the victim was indeed injured by the alligator, and
- the alligator was not on a leash.
Those three conditions of winning an alligator-bite case based on this particular law are the elements of an alligator-bite case. Which means that in order for a victim to win an alligator-bite case, they have to be able to prove that their unique alligator-related injuries match the archetypal scenario outlined in the law, and the way this is proven is by proving all of the elements of the law were present in their specific case.
So if Bill was walking down the street and he was attacked by an alligator that was owned by Susan, it sure seems like he has the right to sue her under this law. If Bill sues Susan, he'll have to prove that the facts and circumstances of his case meets all of the elements of an alligator-bite case as outlined by the law. But let's say that Susan's alligator was on a leash. So when his case goes to trial, the jury will hear all of the facts presented and they will be asked to assess whether or not all of the case elements were proven to have occurred in Bill's specific case. The jury's thought process would go something like this:
- Was the alligator owned by a citizen of the town? Yes, the evidence shows that Susan lives in the town, so this element has been met.
- Was the victim injured by the alligator? Yes, the evidence shows that Bill was injured, so this element has been met.
- Was the alligator on a leash? Yes, the evidence shows that the alligator was on a leash. Uh oh, Bill's case is now in trouble since the law states that the alligator's owner is only liable when the alligator is NOT on a leash.
Even though Bill could prove that the facts and circumstances of his case included two of the three elements, he will lose his case since he cannot satisfy all three elements. Case elements should be thought of as a checklist. If you can't look at a list of the required elements for your particular type of case and check each one off, you don't have a case that can be won.
Obviously the alligator scenario above doesn't reflect real case elements. So here are some actual case elements that must be proven in most personal injury cases based on a negligence cause of action:
- Duty - That the defendant owed you a legal duty to keep from harming you
- Breach - That the defendant indeed breached that legal duty
- Causation - That the breach of duty was the proximate cause of your injuries
- Damages - That you suffered injuries or incurred damages as a direct result of the negligence of the defendant
As you might guess, if an injured person cannot prove every single once of these elements, they will lose their personal injury case.
Why must you prove all of the elements of a case?
You may be wondering why case elements work the way they do. After all, isn't that kind of restrictive? Well, that's kind of the whole point. The law doesn't want you to sue someone when they almost injured you or almost slandered you. The law only wants you to sue someone when all of the elements of the case are present.
You may be wondering why anyone ever needs to file suit and argue about their case. After all, isn't just as easy as looking up the law, finding out what the required elements are, and then only pursuing the case is the facts of your case meet the required criteria? Well, the problem with this line of thinking is that case elements are almost always at least somewhat ambiguous. When laws are written (or when court-created case law is created by judges), there is usually a general set of circumstances covered or outlined by the law. But life is rarely that simple. There are often cases, particularly injury cases, where the lines are blurry, and wherein the facts and circumstances of the real-life injury scenario are not as cut and dry as the ideal scenario outlined in the law.
However, even when a real-life injury scenario is identical to the law, or is right on point, the injured plaintiff still has to deal with the defendant (the one being sued) challenging them. In other words, no defendant ever says, "Okay, you caught me red handed." Instead, they're far more likely to say, "Sure, the law says I'm responsible for paying you if my negligent conduct caused you to sustain injuries, but I don't think my conduct was negligent." You see, just as hard as you may fight to prove the elements of your case, the defendant is fighting equally as hard to disprove the elements of your case.
The main thing that you should take away from this article is that every case that is recognized as a valid case type by the court, no matter what the allegation or injury alleged happens to be, will feature elements, and you must prove that your injury scenario included those elements, or you can't win your case. Further, it's not good enough to prove some of the elements of your case. You must prove them all.
But what happens when there is a dispute over what actually happened in a particular accident? Well, that's exactly why courts and jury trials exist. It's up to you and your attorneys to prove the elements of your case, and the jury gets to decide if they believe you or not.
Call Grossman Law Offices:
Our Texas personal injury attorneys have over 25 years of experience handling personal injury claims in the state of Texas. We've won literally thousands of cases and we know this area of the law almost better than anyone. Give us a call whenever it is most convenient for you. We can be reached 24/7 at (855) 326-0000. Get us started on your case today.
Other articles about personal injury cases that may be helpful:
- What are recognized causes of action under Texas law?
- What are common negligence arguments under Texas law?
- What are the elements of a negligence case?
- What damages are available in a personal injury case?