In the aftermath of an accident, you may be facing a cascade of costs, including medical bills, repairs for property damage, and more. If your harm resulted from another party’s carelessness, you’ll likely need to file a personal injury claim and prove negligence in order to obtain compensation for these damages.
Plaintiffs are required to prove all four of the elements of negligence. Breach of duty is the keystone of a negligence claim and arguably the most important of the four elements. This resource will explain the concept of breach of duty, how to prove it, and how this element of negligence informs your personal injury claim.
For more information, please contact an experienced personal injury lawyer at Laird Hammons Laird Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free initial at consultation today at (405) 497-0480. Our law office is located in Oklahoma City.
What Are the Elements of a Negligence Claim?
Plaintiffs must establish all four elements of a negligence claim: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Duty of Care
Everyone owes a duty of care to act reasonably under the circumstances. The standard of care may be higher if the individual is a professional or is operating heavy machinery. For instance, surgeons have a duty to utilize their medical training, follow all safety protocols, and act as a reasonable surgeon would in a similar situation.
Breach of Duty
When someone fails to meet the standard of precaution and reasonableness expected of them, they have breached their duty of care. In the example above, a surgeon may breach their duty if they do not disinfect their tools before surgery. Without a breach of duty, there is no negligence.
The plaintiff must also prove that the breach of duty actually caused their injuries. If a plaintiff’s injury is unrelated to the breach, the negligence claim will fail. For example, if the surgeon failed to wash their tools before the surgery, but the plaintiff was actually injured by a defective pacemaker, the surgeon’s actions didn’t cause the plaintiff’s injuries.
Finally, the plaintiff must show that they sustained damages due to the defendant’s breach of duty. This means that, even if the defendant’s actions were likely to cause an injury, the plaintiff may not have a negligence claim if they didn’t suffer harm. In the example of the surgeon, the patient cannot sue for negligence unless they were actually injured due to the surgeon’s failure to follow hygiene protocol.
Understanding the Standard of Care in a Negligence Case
Breach of duty is evaluated based on what a reasonable person would have done under the same circumstances. This standard may be raised in proportion to an individual’s professional training and the risk level of their jobs. It may also be lowered if the defendant is a child or someone who is unable to understand the consequences of their actions.
The standard of care is not based on the defendant’s actual capacity but rather on the capacity and knowledge expected of the defendant. If a surgeon’s training excluded a hygiene protocol, that would not be an excuse because a surgeon with similar training would be expected to know those practices.
Applying Breach of Duty to Personal Injury Cases
In personal injury lawsuits, establishing a breach of duty involves comparing the defendant’s actions to what a reasonably prudent person would have done in a similar situation.
For instance, in a car accident case, a court might determine whether a driver’s actions – like speeding or running a red light – breached their duty to drive safely. Similarly, in a premises liability case, a court may ask whether a property owner was negligent in maintaining safe premises to determine if they breached their duty to visitors.
Proving a Breach of Duty
In civil cases, a plaintiff must prove each element of a negligence claim by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This simply means that it is more likely true than not that there was a breach of duty.
In order to prove a breach of duty, the plaintiff must furnish evidence demonstrating the deviation from the expected standard of care. The evidence can include expert testimony, especially in cases of professional negligence. Professionals in the relevant field may provide testimony regarding the standard of care. Evidence may also include documentation — such as records, reports, or documentation highlighting the defendant’s actions or lack thereof.
For breach of duty, the plaintiff needs to show the deviation from protocol or the failure to exercise ordinary care and caution. Whether that breach caused the injury may be proved in later elements of negligence: causation and damages.
Factors Influencing Breach of Duty in a Personal Injury Claim
Numerous factors affect breach of duty, including:
- The behavior of the individual and whether it would be objectively reasonable to a jury
- Whether the individual followed all established safety practices
- Whether the individual exercised informed, unimpaired judgment if deviating from those practices
- The level of risk (i.e., whether the activity in question is dangerous or requires a higher level of care)
- Whether the individual has professional training
- Whether the individual is involuntarily impaired or has reduced capacity (e.g., a child or individual with a mental disability)
Understanding breach of duty is fundamental in personal injury cases. A defendant has breached their duty if they have failed to meet the standard of care expected of them, leading to harm. If you believe you’ve been injured due to someone else’s breach of duty, you should consult an experienced personal injury attorney to clarify your legal options and help you pursue rightful compensation.
Contact the Oklahoma City Personal Injury Law Firm of Laird Hammons Laird Personal Injury Lawyers for Help Today
For more information, please contact an experienced personal injury lawyer at Laird Hammons Laird Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free initial consultation today. Our law office is located in Oklahoma City.
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