What Is Negligence From A Legal Viewpoint?

In American law, negligence occurs when a person or an organization fails to take actions that a reasonable person similarly situated would take. Such failures also have to lead to another person coming to harm, and the harm has to rise to a level that there are provable monetary damages.

That seems like a simple enough idea, but you can ask any negligence attorney and learn that there's a lot more to it than someone messing up. Let's examine what negligence is from a legal perspective.

Criminal vs. Civil Negligence

Negligence can be bad enough that it rises to the level of a crime. In most U.S. states, criminal negligence involves behavior that goes beyond simple failures. For someone to be found criminally negligent, they typically have to engage in extremely risky behaviors that can't be justified under the circumstances. Likewise, criminal negligence has to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Civil negligence claims are the most commonly pursued cases. These involve instances where people or organizations should have prevented harm from happening. Unlike criminal negligence, the civil act can include everyday conduct that may seem normal to the defendant. To prove civil negligence, a plaintiff must merely demonstrate that their version of events is more likely than not the truth.

A Duty

Actions cannot be deemed negligent unless a person has a duty under the circumstances to prevent harm from coming to others. You don't have a duty, for example, to rush into a fire to save your next-door neighbor.

Legal duties are usually established through some choice a defendant has engaged in. For example, a convenience store assumes a duty to protect the public from wet floors when it opens its doors. Consequently, a business may be found negligent if the staff doesn't post signs around wet areas and someone subsequently has a slip-and-fall accident.

Harm and Proximate Cause

These two factors have to be present for a negligence claim to be justified. A person must experience significant and demonstrable harm. You can't claim negligence in a slip-and-fall case if all you suffered was a scrape.

Similarly, the defendant must be shown to be the most proximate cause of the harm. If a truck hits an icy patch on the road, the conditions and not the driver's actions were likely the most proximate cause of what ensued. That might be seen differently, though, if the brakes weren't properly maintained. Request legal counsel from an accredited law firm like Franklin L. Jones, Jr. today.