In your first semester of law school, the curriculum almost always includes a handful of seminal classes to ease you into basic legal theory. One of those classes is typically Torts 101. Generally, Torts are civil wrongs caused by a party that cause damage to another party. While there are many kinds of Torts, the most noteworthy for purpose of Personal Injury cases are those involving negligence.
Negligent acts – for lack of a better word – are accidents. When a person takes a specific action or omits a specific action that is required, that person might be negligent. If they are negligent, a court might hold them responsible for damages related to their negligent act or omission.
Auto collisions – for the most part – are claims under a theory of negligence. After all, when a driver fails to stop in time and rear-ends another vehicle, we generally refer to it as a car accident. When you’re negotiating with the at-fault driver’s insurance company or any at-fault party for that matter, it will be your burden to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the other person (or entity) was negligent.
Washington’s courts agree that there are four elements required to prove any claim under a theory of negligence. In other words, in order to bring a successful claim after a motor vehicle collision, you must be able to prove four fundamental pieces.
Duty of Care
For someone to be negligent, they must first owe a recognizable duty to you. As far as a car accident is concerned, all drivers have a duty to drive safely without causing an accident. This is based in Washington statutes and court decisions. For a slip and fall, the business owner may have a duty to investigate and warn patrons of unseen hazards that may cause injuries. On the other hand, doctors have a duty to practice their specialty and meet the standard of care for other doctors in our community. Duty of care is often not difficult to establish because Washington laws (and common sense) provide some quick answers to most questions.
Breach of Duty
Once you establish that a party owes a duty of care to you, the next step is to establish that the party breached that standard of care. Failing to notice your vehicle braking and slamming into the back of your car is a clear breach of the duty to drive your vehicle safely. However, more complicated cases involving medical malpractice or slip and fall, which are fraught with issues in proving this element. Was the property owner negligent if no reasonable person could have anticipated the hazard? Was the doctor negligent if he did the best he could despite the poor result? These are all questions that can cause significant problems for average cases.
Whether they are economic damages like medical bills and wage loss or general damages like pain and suffering or emotional trauma, damages must be calculated to prove a claim for negligence. Between your testimony, your medical records, and the support of your friends, family, and doctors, your damages are typically simple to outline.
Last – and almost universally considered the most complicated – is the idea of proximate cause. In other words, you have the burden to prove that at-fault party’s breach caused your damages. From the claimant’s perspective it seems simple. You weren’t having pain or treatment before the accident and you were afterwards. From the defense perspective it’s always more complicated. Perhaps you had a symptomatic preexisting condition, or maybe there were treatments that were unreasonable given the circumstances. There are always arguments for a defendant, their attorney, or an expert witness to make to discredit your claim on the issue of causation.
Knowing the elements of a negligence claim is half the battle. Taking this information and crafting a cognizable Personal Injury claim is a separate issue. With insurance companies cracking down on claims, crossing your i’s and dotting your t’s will help you ensure the adjusters take you seriously. Working with an experienced personal injury attorney will allow you to focus on healing and get your claim moving in the right direction. Call today for a free consultation.