What Are The Elements Of Negligence In California Personal Injury Claims?

Before examining the elements of these claims, it’s important to review the purpose of filing these cases. Many people are understandably reluctant to follow this route. After all, they reason, it was only an accident, my health insurance policy will probably pay my medical bills, and I was not hurt that badly.

All three of these sentiments are understandable. But they are more than just ordinary myths. They are dangerous myths that often have an adverse effect on your family for years to come.

Why You Should Pursue a Negligence Action

A growing number of people, including National Transportation Safety Administration Director Mark Rosekind, are pushing for a culture change. They advocate replacing car accident with car crash. The A-word implies that the event was unavoidable, inevitable, and no one’s fault. In most cases, none of those things were true. Human error causes over 90 percent of car crashes. These incidents may be accidental to the extent they were unintentional. But we all cause accidents from time to time. And, we must all accept responsibility for the accidents we cause.

“Accident” first entered the language in this context in the early 1900s. Factory owners coined the term “industrial accident” to describe workplace injuries. The phrase shifted responsibility away from their dangerous factories and onto the victims.

Next, California health insurance companies often deny injury-related claims for liability reasons. If there is any chance that someone else will pay these expenses, the stingy insurance company will not pay.

Finally, many people are hurt badly in car crashes. They simply do not realize it. Adrenaline from the crash often masks many serious injuries. Of course, this effect is only temporary. Similarly, the brain is very good at hiding its own injury. When concussed football players tell their coaches they can go back into the game because they “feel fine,” they are not lying. They really do feel okay, in most cases. Car crashes often involve head injuries as well, most notably whiplash.

Elements of an Orange County Negligence Case

In America, this idea is a combination of ethics and laws. Many schoolchildren once learned the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you). At about the same time, courts in England developed the idea of personal responsibility. The most significant of these cases may have been 1932’s Donoghue v. Stevenson. This decision included the neighbor principle, which was basically the Golden Rule in Legalese. The neighbor principle eventually found its way into American courts.

A basic California negligence case, like a car crash, has five basic elements:

  • Duty: The neighbor principle has expanded over the years. Noncommercial drivers usually have a duty of reasonable care. They must obey the rules of the road and drive defensively. Many commercial operators are common carriers in California. These operators have a higher duty of care. They are not quite insurers of safe conduct for their passengers, but they are very close.
  • Breach: Drivers breach their duty if their conduct falls below the relevant standard of care. The jury usually decides this fact-based question, because not all poor behavior is a breach of duty. For example, talking to passengers is technically distracted driving, since operators take their minds off the road and their eyes off the road. But most people would not consider such conduct a breach of duty.
  • Cause-in-Fact: Most lawyers call this element “but-for” causation. In other words, the wreck would not have occurred “but for” the tortfeasor’s (negligent actor’s) conduct or misconduct.
  • Proximate Cause: This is another lawyer word that really means foreseeability. It is foreseeable that a car will careen off the road and hit a pedestrian after a crash. But it is not foreseeable that a doctor will make a medical mistake during surgery. The tortfeasor is responsible for the first act but not the second, even if the tortfeasor did not directly cause either one.
  • Damages: In California, victims must suffer a physical injury to recover damages. That could be a personal injury or a property loss. A near miss, even though it is frightening, is not negligence in the Golden State.

Typically, car crash victims are entitled to compensation for their economic losses, such as medical bills, as well as their noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well, in some extreme cases.

Premises liability cases, such as slip-and-fall injuries or dog bites, work a little differently although they are still negligence matters. The elements in these cases are:

  • The defendant owned, occupied, leased, or controlled the premises,
  • The defendant was negligent,
  • The victim suffered injury, and
  • The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm.

Typically, the victim/plaintiff must also establish actual or constructive knowledge (known or should have known) about the slick floor, burned-out security light, or other property defect. In California, premises liability is a very fact-specific exercise. For example, if the victim was hurt at a rental house, the owner may have had no actual control over the premises and therefore may not be liable.

A Shortcut to Recovery in Orange County

In some tort cases, the negligence per se doctrine may apply. Tortfeasors are responsible for damages as a matter of law if:

  • They violate a safety statute, like DUI or a dog leash law, and
  • That violation substantially causes the victim/plaintiff’s injuries.

Negligence per se cases are fact-specific as well. The jury decides whether or not the tortfeasor violated a safety law. So, if a woman is arrested for DUI and gets off on a technicality, the negligence per se shortcut may still be available.

Connect With Aggressive Lawyers

Accident victims are often entitled to substantial compensation through negligence cases. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Orange County, contact RMD Law. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.

Aria Miran
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