Tort Law: How is Negligence Proven?

Golden legal scales used in a tort law negligence case
  • James Notaris

    CPA, ESQ. Legal Editor

  • Steve Longo

    Executive Editor

    In Brief:

  • Negligence plays crucial role in tort law in the United States.

  • Four parts of negligence must be established by a plaintiff in a tort law case. 

  • Find out more about tort law negligence below!

At the crux of tort law, in many cases, lies negligence. Tort law negligence is certainly something that has a great impact on the outcome of many cases, but just what exactly is it? How is it proven in a court of law? Here’s a detailed look at tort law negligence and how it’s proven in court!

What is Negligence in Tort Law?

Negligence is the failure to act with the level of appropriate care expected that someone would have exercised under the same circumstances in which the alleged tort occurred. 

This area of tort law deals with a person’s direct actions as well as their lack of action, such as the failure to help someone in need, for example. The main concept of tort law negligence is that people need to exercise with their actions by taking into account any type of potential harm they could potentially cause to other people or property. 

A person or business who suffers any type of loss, including physical injury, economic loss, damage to property, or psychiatric damage, due to another person’s negligence may be able to sue for damages as compensation. Negligence is broken down into four key components in order to prove it in a court of law: duty, breach, cause, and harm. 

What are the 4 Parts of Negligence?

To win a tort law case, the injury party must prove negligence in the following four key areas to show that the defendant acted negligently:

  1. Duty to exercise caution: The duty to exercise caution is the defendant’s duty to exercise adequate caution and care as to not harm anyone else or any property. 

 

  1. Breach of duty: The breach of duty occurs when a defendant fails to exercise an appropriate amount of caution while performing a duty. 

 

  1. Cause: Cause is when the actions of a defendant result in direct harm in some way to the injury party. 

 

  1. Harm: Harm, or damage, is a form of loss suffered by the injury party as a direct result of a defendant’s failure to exercise reasonable care and caution. 

Duty to Exercise Caution

When looking into a negligence claim, whether the defendant owed the injury party a legal duty of care is first examined. This could mean that the defendant owed the injury party a legal duty of care in a general sense, such as the duty to drive a car safely, or in a more personal sense, like how a doctor owes their patients proper medical care.

Breach of Duty

After, a court of law then looks into whether breached their duty by acting in a way, or failing to act in a way, that a reasonable and careful person would in similar circumstances. THis essentially means that the defendant could be found negligent if the average person, knowing exactly what the defendant knows at the time, would have realized that someone may be injured as a result of their actions and subsequently would have acted in a different way.

Cause

This means that the injury party must show that the defendant’s actions directly resulted in some sort of injury to them or their property. For example, a careless driver who gets into a minor accident with another driver could be at fault for directly damaging the injury party’s car, but another driver who was speeding several miles down the road can’t despite their potentially reckless behavior. 

Whether the defendant could have foreseen that their actions could have harmed someone is also taken into account. If the accident occurred at random and was not foreseeable, the defendant is likely to not be found liable for any damages the injury party sustained.

Harm

Harm, also called damages, is the loss the injury party has suffered by the defendant’s actions and includes property destruction, physical harm, and economic losses. This component of tort law negligence cases is almost always in dispute between the defendant and the injury party and is often compensated monetarily.

The word "justice" spelled out in Scrabble on a wooden table with tort law in mind

What is Reasonable Care?

A term that pops up often in tort law is reasonable care. This is defined as the degree of caution a typically prudent person would exercise in similar circumstances. Though subjective, it’s a standard used in courts of law used to determine a legal duty and whether the person in question fulfilled it successfully. A defendant found to not properly use reasonable care in a tort law case could find themselves liable to be sued for damages their actions caused.

How Do You Establish a Negligence Tort?

Negligence is ultimately proven in a court of law when its four components – duty, breach, cause, and harm – are all established in a court of law. 

After a duty to exercise caution and reasonable care in a situation has been established, the plaintiff must prove that this particular duty was breached by the defendant. After, it must be established that the defendant’s failure to use caution and act with care resulted in direct harm in some way to the injury party, which could be in the form of a monetary loss, damage to a home or car, a physical injury, psychological trauma, and the like.

Once all of these elements have been established and proven in a tort law negligence case, the defendant could be found liable for damages they directly caused to the injury party, who in turn may receive monetary compensation for their losses.

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