Law FAQ: What is negligence?

Negligence is the legal term for failing to exercise reasonable care and caution under a given set of circumstances.  It is commonly referred to as “the ordinary, reasonable man” standard.  Legal liability is assessed when a person fails to follow society’s most basic “rules of the road” so to speak.

Some examples of negligence might include:

  • Running a red light and causing a wreck.
  • A hurried doctor who fails to follow correct protocol and thus fails to diagnose a curable disease.
  • A nurse who fails to check the medical chart and who then dispenses the wrong medication.
  • A store owner who fails to mop up a known puddle on the floor.
  • A pharmacist who dispenses the wrong dosage of medication.
  • A contractor who fails to adhere to building plans or skirts building codes.
  • A child care center that fails to conduct background checks before hiring employees to care for children unsupervised.
  • A lawyer who fails to file his client’s lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires.

In a negligence case, a plaintiff is required to prove five elements:

  1. that a duty of care was owed by the defendant;
  2. that the defendant failed to live up to that duty (i.e. referred to as a “breach of duty”);
  3. that an injury or loss occurred;
  4. that the breach of duty actually caused the injury or loss; and,
  5. proximate or legal cause.

More on these five elements tomorrow….

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