As a Washington lawyer, I often get asked about the difference between accidents with bad results and negligence. While accidents happen every day, not all injury causing issues are the result of negligence. Negligence refers to the failure to take reasonable care to prevent harm to others. This is a legal term of art that is especially important in the legal world, especially in cases related to car accidents and medical malpractice, because without negligence, your claim would not exist in most cases.
Motor vehicle collisions are a common occurrence, but not all accidents are the result of negligence. For instance, if someone runs a red light and crashes into another car, it could be considered negligence because they failed to take reasonable care to prevent harm to others. On the other hand, if a driver is rear-ended by another driver who was distracted by their phone, it would likely be considered negligence on the part of the distracted driver. Here’s a more complicated example, what if the rear driver had a sudden, unexpected medical emergency that led to the crash?
To prove negligence in a car accident case, several elements must be present.
(1) The plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed them a duty of care. This means that the defendant had a responsibility to operate their vehicle in a safe and reasonable manner.
(2) The plaintiff must prove the defendant breached this duty of care. This can be done by showing that the defendant acted unreasonably, such as by driving under the influence of alcohol, texting while driving, or simply not paying attention.
(3) The plaintiff must show that the defendant's breach of duty caused the plaintiff's damages. This usually comes in the form of medical expenses and wage loss, but also includes general pain and suffering not calculated with specific damages.
If even one of those elements are not present, then there is no negligence and your case has no merit.
Medical malpractice is another area where negligence plays a significant role. Medical professionals have a duty to provide a certain standard of care to their patients. That fulfills element #1 of the negligence test. When they fail to meet this standard, it can result in serious harm to the patient.
Examples of medical malpractice can include misdiagnosis, surgical errors, medication errors, or failure to properly monitor a patient's condition. To prove medical malpractice, the plaintiff must establish that the medical professional owed them a duty of care, that the duty of care was breached, that the breach caused the plaintiff's injuries, and that the plaintiff suffered damages as a result.
One of the challenges of medical malpractice cases is that medical professionals are held to a high standard of care, and not all negative outcomes are the result of negligence. To determine whether a medical professional breached their duty of care, expert witnesses are often called upon to provide their opinion. That’s why doctors will often describe the potential consequences of a certain treatment at the outset. Some of these poor results are not caused by negligent actions but just because your body reacted in an unexpected way or because the condition was too far advanced to resolve.
Negligence is an important concept in the legal world, taught typically in the first year of law school because it plays such a pivotal role in civil cases – especially for injuries related to car accidents and medical malpractice. If you believe that you have been the victim of negligence, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the legal system and seek the compensation you deserve. Call the law offices of Magnuson Lowell PS for a free case evaluation.