Negligence is a basic legal concept that plays a critical role in many civil cases. In this article, we’ll define negligence, outline its four elements, and explain its relevance to three areas of legal practice: personal injury, auto accidents, and medical malpractice.

Key Takeaways

  • Negligence is a failure to act in a reasonable way, causing harm to another party
  • A person can be held legally responsible for negligent acts
  • There are four components of negligence: duty of care, breach of care, causation, and damages
  • If you are injured due to another party’s negligent behavior, you may be entitled to compensation through insurance claims and/or civil lawsuits
  • Negligence plays a major role in personal injury law, auto accident cases, and medical malpractice

What Is Negligence?

Negligence is a legal term referring to an individual’s failure to behave in a way that a reasonable person would be expected to under a certain set of circumstances, ultimately resulting in a loss to another party. Negligence can be either an action or a failure to act when there is a duty to do so.

There are four components to negligence, including:

  • Duty of care - It must be proven that the negligent party owed a standard of reasonable care 
  • Breach of duty - The negligent party must be demonstrated to have failed to execute their duty of care
  • Causation - The breach of duty must be shown to have caused harm or loss
  • Damages - This refers to the loss and harm caused by the negligent party

Negligence in Personal Injury Law

Negligence is a key factor in personal injury claims and lawsuits. A person can be held legally responsible for an act of negligence that causes harm to another party. This means that, if you were injured because somebody else behaved in a negligent way, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses by making a personal injury insurance claim and/or filing a lawsuit.

Examples of negligence for which you can make a personal injury claim include:

  • A dog owner failing to restrain their violent dog, causing another to be bitten
  • A landlord failing to repair a dangerous stairwell, leading to somebody falling and breaking a bone
  • A pool owner failing to provide a lifeguard, causing somebody to drown

In all these cases, the negligent party can be held legally responsible and be required to pay damages.

Negligence in Auto Accidents

Negligence is also a common element of car accident cases, as well as accidents involving buses, motorcycles, trucks, and so on. While not all auto accidents are caused by negligence, many of them are. If an individual can prove that another driver was negligent and it led to a car accident in which they suffered losses, they may be entitled to compensation through the auto insurance of the negligent party.

Examples of driver negligence include:

  • Failing to stop at a red light
  • Driving too quickly or slowly
  • Driving while distracted by a mobile device
  • Failing to use turn signals

Negligence in Medical Malpractice

A final area of legal practice in which negligence often plays a role is medical malpractice. Medical malpractice refers to a situation in which a health care provider provides substandard treatment, failing to meet the expected standard of care and resulting in injury to a patient. 

Examples of medical negligence include:

  • Prescribing the wrong medication
  • Making a mistake during a surgical procedure
  • Misreading laboratory results
  • Discharging a patient prematurely

In all of these instances of negligence and more, the injured patient (or the loved ones of a deceased patient) may pursue legal action for medical malpractice in order to seek compensation for injuries, loss, pain, and suffering.

Negligence and Nursing Home Abuse

Negligence is a major factor in nursing home abuse, which is defined as the harm and mistreatment of residents of nursing homes by caretakers, intentional or unintentional. Many nursing homes are underfunded, resulting in understaffing situations in which there are too many residents in proportion to caregivers. As a result, residents may not receive the medical or emotional attention they require. 

Signs of nursing home abuse include:

  • Bedsores
  • Unusual withdrawals from a resident’s bank account
  • Arguments between a patient and a caregiver
  • Unsuitable clothing for the weather
  • Refusal to let family members visit with a resident alone
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Falling injuries
  • Unexplained injuries such as welts, fractures, or rope marks

Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits

A resident who has experienced nursing home abuse and wants to take legal action against the nursing home must be able to prove the four elements of negligence. Note that negligence does not only refer to negligence care of a nursing home resident but also any of the following:

  • Negligent maintenance of the premises
  • Negligent hiring or retention of employees
  • Negligent selection of medical equipment

Nursing homes can often be held responsible for an individual caregiver’s negligence if that caregiver is an employee, even if the nursing home did not direct the caregiver’s actions.

Unless the abuse is egregious and obvious, the plaintiff and the nursing home will need to provide expert testimony of what duty of care was owed to the patient and whether that duty was breached in the particular case. 

In some states, regulations and statutes govern the minimum standard of care for a private nursing home. In these states, the plaintiff may be able to assert negligence if a nursing home’s violation of a minimum standard caused an injury to a resident. That being said, even when a minimum licensing standard is met, a nursing home may still fall below the general standard of care.

To receive a review of your nursing home abuse case, contact a nursing home abuse attorney.

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