Negligence is a word that gets thrown around quite a bit these days. While it may have a number of meanings among the general population, it is a very specific concept in legal circles. This blog previously outlined the very basic structure of a negligence claim by briefly summarizing the elements in such a claim. California readers may remember that the first two elements are 'duty' and 'breach.' Let's take a quick look at these foundational parts of a negligence case.
The first thing that must exist for a plaintiff to succeed on a negligence claim is that a duty was owed by the defendant to the victim. This is usually done in the form of a relationship that would legally require the defendant to act or not act in a certain way towards the plaintiff. For example, in a premises liability case, a landlord may have a duty to protect an invitee from a hazard on the property, but not owe that same duty to a trespasser. Or, in the case of an automobile accident, the defendant may owe a duty to other people on roadways to follow the rules of the road, and act reasonably in the face of changing weather conditions. Because whether a duty is owed is a legal question, it is usually resolved by a judge rather than a jury.
Once it is established that a duty was owed, the inquiry turns to whether this duty was breached by the defendant. Did the landlord neglect to fix a broken step that caused injury to his invitee in contravention of his duty, or did the driver of a car run a red light, thus breaching his duty to other Californians on the road to operate his vehicle safely? In these cases, there may be a breach of the legal duty. Generally, a jury will determine if a breach occurred, as it is a question of fact.
It should be remembered that these two elements are just the beginning of proving a negligence case. There are also questions of causation, and the damages that were wrought by the alleged negligence. Those California residents who have been injured by another's negligence may wish to consider consulting an experienced personal injury attorney to further discuss these matters.