What Are the Four Elements of Negligence?

The basis for a personal injury lawsuit after you have been in an accident focuses on a legal concept that is known as negligence. Most accidents aren’t just accidents. The majority could have been avoided but because of negligence or intentional wrongdoing, an accident occurs, and damages result.

You should get the help of a personal injury attorney when you are pursuing a personal injury claim against another party. You need to understand that your claim hinges on negligence, and the four elements of negligence and how they relate to one another is very important.

Negligence is the failure to act with reasonable care or acting in a manner in which a reasonably careful individual would not when facing similar or the same circumstances to protect others or himself/herself from property damage, bodily injury, or death.

Usually, negligent conduct involves an action that leads to damages. This action might be rear-ending another vehicle, drinking and driving, or hitting a pedestrian at an intersection.

If you have been in a car accident and you are pursuing a personal injury claim against the at-fault party, you must prove negligence. To prove negligence, you must show that all four elements of negligence have been met.

Your personal injury lawyer will build your case focusing on the negligence and establishing how it specifically applies to your auto accident.

The four elements of negligence are first, showing the other party had a duty or a responsibility to you; the second element is showing that the other party breached that duty; third you must show that the breach of duty caused an accident; and then lastly, show that the accident led to the injuries that you suffered in the crash. Your lawyer will summarize that as it applies to your auto accident.

As an example, you were rear-ended at a stoplight. First, all drivers have a duty or a responsibility to protect others from harm. They must abide by the laws of the road and drive safely. The first element of negligence has been met.

Next, the driver breached that duty when you were rear-ended. They were driving too closely or speeding so they crashed into your vehicle. That was the second element of negligence.

The third element is when the car that was speeding and following too closely hit you and caused the accident. Then lastly, your car was damaged, and you suffered whiplash and other losses because of being rear-ended, so that is the fourth element as it applies to your specific accident.

You will need to maintain evidence and documentation to support your claim and to prove which damages you suffered because of the negligence.

What Are the Four Elements of Negligence?

The Distinct Four Elements of Negligence

There are four distinct elements or components of negligence. If you cannot successfully establish each of these elements, you won’t be able to get compensated for your personal injury claim.

    Duty of Care

    – The first element of negligence is found in the duty of care. This element emphasizes that one party has the legal obligation to act in a specific manner toward the other party. As an example, a driver is required to abide by traffic laws to avoid causing unreasonable danger to others.


    – The second element is to prove that there is a breach of that duty of care because the individual or entity fails to fulfill their requirements or duties. This might include a driver speeding or running a stop sign.


    – As the third element of negligence, causation involves proving that the breach of duty of care is what results in the damages and injuries. Actual cause is in existence, but if the duty of care had not been breached there would not have been injuries. Proximate cause exists when the kind and the extent of the individual’s injuries were related to the breach of duty of care. As an example, say a motorcyclist was hit by a car and the accident breaks the motorcyclist’s back. If the car hadn’t hit the motorcycle, the motorcyclist wouldn’t have suffered a broken back, so the injuries are the result of the driver failing to exercise due care.


    – Damages are the fourth element of negligence. The plaintiff must have suffered injuries and damages that could be remedied by a monetary settlement. As an example, money can compensate for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and the loss of quality of life after an accident.

The Different Kinds of Negligence

Different states have different laws regarding auto accidents. States either recognize comparative negligence or contributory negligence. The most significant difference between comparative and contributory negligence is that contributory negligence doesn’t allow the accident victim to recover compensation for his or her damages if he or she contributed to the accident while comparative negligence allows the accident victim to recover his or her losses.

Contributory negligence states that if a person was injured in an accident and it was in part because of his or her own negligence, then he or she cannot file a claim against the other party to recover any damages because they were partly to blame for the accident that caused the damages.

This is true even if the plaintiff was only 1 percent to blame for the crash. If any blame or fault falls on the plaintiff, then he or she cannot pursue a personal injury claim against the other party.

Comparative negligence, which is sometimes called non-absolute contributory negligence, is a partial legal defense that reduces the amount of damages that can be recovered based on the degree to which the accident victim – or plaintiff- was at fault for the crash.

As an example, if the plaintiff suffered $100,000 in damages, but was 20 percent to blame for the crash, he or she could only recover $80,000 from the other driver.

An Accident With Contributory Negligence

If you were driving down the highway about 10 miles over the speed limit and a car pulls into your path and you T-bone it, you have suffered damages. That driver failed to yield right-of-way, so you will want to pursue a claim to recover your damages.

However, when you file your claim, the insurance of the other driver points out that you were speeding. They determine that if you had been traveling the posted speed limit, you wouldn’t have crashed into the other driver when he pulled out in front of you because you would have been able to stop in time. In that case, they will put you a percentage to blame for the crash.

Because you were breaking the law, which was the second element of negligence – you were breaching your duty – you were partly to blame for the crash that resulted. When this crash occurred, you and the other party both suffered damages.

Since you were both at fault in this case – although percentages to blame varied – neither of you can pursue a claim for damages from the other party.

The state laws regarding negligence vary, but your personal injury lawyer will be familiar with the specific laws that apply in your state. Different states follow comparative liability to some point, but they do have different rules regarding “joint and several liability” and that is when contributory negligence comes into play.

In states that abide by the traditional joint and several liability regulations, each liable party is responsible for all of the damages suffered by the plaintiff regardless of their percentage of fault for the accident. But, in states that do not follow joint and several liability, the plaintiff can only recover that specific defendant’s percentage of fault.

Consult With An Auto Accident Injury Lawyer

If you have been involved in an auto accident that led to damages, you should enlist the help of a personal injury lawyer who is licensed in your state. With the help of an attorney, you are much more likely to recover compensation for your damages.

When you enlist the help of a personal injury attorney, you will not have to pay anything out of pocket or up front. Instead, the lawyer will work on a contingency basis, which means the lawyer will not get paid until you win your claim and recover compensation for your losses through a settlement or a judgment.

Every state has a statute of limitations or a time limit for pursuing an accident claim after a crash. If you wait until the deadline has passed, you cannot recover compensation for your damages.

To get your claim on track, you should consult with a personal injury lawyer right away. Schedule your free case evaluation with an accident injury attorney today, so you can make sure your claim is handled in a timely fashion.

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