in its simplest form, negligence is when one party or entity acts or fails to act in a manner which is consistent with ordinary care. What exactly is the standard of care and the process used to prove negligence in Court is fact intensive and governed by detailed and specific rules and laws which are State specific, and in some cases, even County or Circuit specific. Below is a legal explanation intended to give general background concerning the elements of Negligence. You should note that it is highly recommended for you to speak with an attorney who will evaluate your personal injury case at no cost to you. This is called “hiring an attorney or lawyer on a contingency fee basis.” Arcadier, Biggie & Wood, PLLC offers a free consultation and contingency fee representation for personal injuries and personal injury cases that occur in the State of Florida, and in particular, Brevard County (The Space Coast), Melbourne, Florida and West Melbourne, Florida, Palm Bay, Cocoa, Rockledge and Viera.
Identifying the Duty of Care is the first step required in a claim for negligence to recover for personal injuries. Generally speaking, each and every person or entity owes a general duty of care to every other person. That is to say, one must behave with the same duty of care of that of an objectively reasonably careful person under the same circumstances. This is often referred to as, “the reasonable person” standard. There is no general duty to render aid to others, However, there are important exceptions to this general, “no duty to act” rule
First, a special relationship may exist between the Plaintiff and the Defendant which would give rise to a duty to assist the injured person. Furthermore, a special relationship may also give rise to a heightened standard of care; beyond that of the general reasonable person. Some of the most common special relationships which give rise to the exception to the general “no duty to act” rule are:
- An employer and its employees
- A landlord and its tenants
- A school with its students
- A custodian with those persons in its custody
- An innkeeper with its guests
Second, if the Defendant is involved in the accident which leads to Plaintiffs injury, the Defendant has a duty to render aid to the Plaintiff. That is to say, if the Plaintiff is injured by the conduct of the Defendant, the Defendant may not stand idly by and claim that they have no duty to act.
Third, assumption of duty arises in circumstances where the Defendant voluntarily begins to render aid to the Plaintiff. In this circumstance, the Defendant must continue to provide reasonable care to the Plaintiff, even if he initially had no general duty to act. Note that the care which Defendant provides must be “reasonable care.” The care is said to be reasonable where the person acts as an ordinary reasonably prudent person would have acted under the same or similar circumstances. If a good citizen were to help an injured person but negligently renders aid, the injured party may have a claim for negligence against the good citizen for an injury which was caused by their negligent aid, even though that good citizen initially had no general duty to act.
Lastly, the exception may arise where there is a duty to control third persons. This duty to control third persons often arises from a special relationship between the parties.
The second element of a personal injury case is a breach of that duty which was established in the first step. Basically, one must show that the Defendant did not conform to the reasonable person standard. To illustrate this concept, we can imagine an all-too-common occurrence of an automobile accident in which the driver of a car was texting and hit another car. As we have discussed, the driver of a car owes a general duty of care to others. Under the same circumstances, an ordinarily reasonably prudent person would not text while driving because it would take the driver’s concentration off of the road which could potentially cause an accident. By texting while driving, the driver did not conform to the reasonable person standard and breached the duty owed to the Plaintiff.
Once it is established that the Defendant owed the Plaintiff a reasonable duty of care and the Defendant subsequently breached that duty, we must show that the Defendant’s breach caused the Plaintiff’s injuries. To put that another way, you must show that the Defendants carelessness caused your injuries. Although they are often lumped under the general heading of “causation”, causation is actually broken up in to two distinct principles which the injured party must establish in order to succeed in a negligence claim; cause-in-fact and proximate cause.1
1The reason we break causation into two distinct categories of cause-in-fact and proximate cause is because it is possible for the Defendant’s negligence to be the but-for cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries but not the proximate cause. This is illustrated in the famous case of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Company. In that case, a passenger was attempting to board the Defendant’s moving train carrying a package wrapped in newspaper. When the Defendant’s employees saw the passenger boarding the train, one employee onboard pulled, while another on the platform pushed the passenger onto the train, however, the package which the passenger had been holding fell to the train tracks. Unbeknownst to the employees who helped the passenger, the package contained explosives which detonated when they hit the rails. The explosion sent out a shockwave which knocked over a scale on the opposite side train platform. The scale landed on Ms. Palsgraf, who sued the train station for the injuries she incurred due to the negligence of its employees. The court ruled that Ms. Palsgraf could not recover from the railroad because, although the employees pushing the passenger was the “but-for” cause of Ms. Palsgraf’s injuries, it was not reasonably foreseeable that the employees’ action of pushing the passenger onto the train would lead to the passenger dropping a unmarked package which would explode, sending a shockwave far down the platform, knocking over a scale which lead to Ms. Palsgraf’s injuries. Because, under those circumstances, the consequences of the employee’s negligence, helping the passenger get on the train, were not reasonably foreseeable, the Railroad would not be held liable for the injury to Ms. Palsgraf.