Five Elements Of A Negligence Case

Five Elements Of A Negligence Case

Negligence is essentially careless error, and such mistakes cause over 94 percent of the car crashes in the United States.  While we all make mistakes, we must also face the consequences of those mistakes. And in negligence cases, that means paying money damages for the wrong we committed.

Typically, these damages include compensation for medical bills, pain, loss of ability to work, and other economic damages.  Many injury-related hospital bills can exceed well over $100,000 which causes financial hardship and stress.  Moreover, most victims are also entitled to pain and suffering, loss of consortium (companionship), emotional distress, loss of enjoyment in life, and other noneconomic damages. Damages can vary, so it is best to get in touch with a car accident lawyer Atlanta GA residents have hired before.

What must victim/plaintiffs establish in court in order to win and receive such compensation?


Most drivers have a duty of reasonable care.  The duty of reasonable care, which is based on the Golden Rule (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), requires motorists to drive defensively, concentrate on the road while behind the wheel, and obey “the rules of the road.”

In many states, taxi drivers, bus drivers, and other such commercial operators are common carriers, and they have a higher duty of care.  Typically, such operators must ensure that their passengers make it safely from their pickup point to their destinations.  They also may have additional rules that govern their driving.


Drivers breach the duty of care if their actions or inactions fall below the applicable standard.  Some common breaches of duty include:

  •       Impairment: Alcohol and most drugs (a category which includes prescription medications, illegal street drugs, and many over-the-counter medicines) impair mental and physical skills, making it unsafe to drive.
  •       Distraction: Cellphones are very distracting.  Other dangerous habits include eating while driving, carrying on an animated conversation with passengers, and obsessively changing the radio or climate control settings.
  •       Fatigue: People who would never dream of drinking and driving have no problem driving while they are drowsy, even though driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving with a .08 BAC.
  •       Speed: Excessive velocity increases the risk of a collision, because it reduces reaction time and multiplies the force in a collision, because of Newton’s Second Law.

Usually, the victim/plaintiff introduces evidence of a breach, and the jury decides whether the tortfeasor (negligent driver) legally breached the duty of care.


There must be a direct relationship between the breach and the damages.  Lawyers often call this element “but-for” causation, as in the car accident would not have occurred “but for” the tortfeasor’s impairment, fatigue, or whatever.

Proximate Cause

The damages must be a foreseeable result of the tortfeasor’s action or inaction.  The eggshell skull rule often comes into play regarding foreseeability.  If the victim had a pre-existing condition which made him/her especially vulnerable to injury, like a bad knee, the tortfeasor is still fully liable for damages.


In most cases, the victim must suffer a physical personal injury, because even though a near miss may cause substantial emotional distress, such incidents are not actionable.  In certain cases, the zone of danger rule expands the damages doctrine, so for example, parents may receive compensation if they are in car crashes that hurt their children.

An experienced car accident attorney can establish all five of these elements and obtain maximum compensation.


Thank you to our friends and contributors at Butler Tobin for their insight on this subject.


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