The concept of personal injury arises from English Common Law during the Renaissance, which is where the elements of our laws and legal precepts originate. Liability pertains to injury accidents which are caused by negligence of another party, be it a person or some other entity – such as a business or the government. The premise is that the negligent party which caused the accident is “liable” for financially reimbursing the victim, “in order to again make the victim ‘whole’” (or as close as possible). As these “liability laws” became more refined to match the civilized world, a thread of “proof” emerged as a way to identify who was liable, and we have established standards for proving first a defendant’s negligence and then why they must reimburse injured victims. Today, this formula of proving negligence on the part of the defendant/person who caused the accident involves four distinct steps.
- The defendant had a “Duty of Care.” This is nothing more than a legal way of saying we all must behave with consideration not to harm others. But there are different levels of duty. You are supposed to leash your aggressive dog, keep your property safe so as not to harm others, and drive with reasonable enough care not to cause accidents. But a commercial truck driver has a higher duty to drive safely when hauling an 80,000-pound 18-wheeler, because many can be hurt when the trucker doesn’t. A healthcare provider has an even higher duty, implied in the Hippocratic Oath, to “first do no harm.” And a manufacturer has a tremendously high duty to create safe products lest hundreds or thousands of people be seriously harmed. So, who you are governs your duty of care.
- The defendant “Breached their Duty.” This simply means that the negligent defendant failed to exercise the caution expected. So a driver who is texting while driving, the doctor who didn’t pay attention to a patient’s condition, the trucker who drives drowsy, or the manufacturer who allowed dangerous products into the market all breached their duty when they injured others “accidentally.”
- Defendant’s breach was the proximate cause of injury. This is called “Causation,” and it is the critical link in proving defendant liability. You and your lawyer must prove the defendant’s negligence resulted in (or was a major contributing factor to) your injuries. Note that we do not say that behavior was the entire cause. Sometimes more than one person or entity can cause an accident. Hence, there could be more than one defendant (against whom to file a claim or lawsuit for damages).
- The injured plaintiff was actually injured or suffered damages. This is the most obvious of the four, because if you are injured (and/or your property was damaged or destroyed by the accident caused by the negligent defendant’s breach of duty), you have a right to file a claim for damages and – if necessary – a civil lawsuit to recover those damages.