Legal Definition of Negligence

Last updated on: March 10, 2015


Personal injury cases often all revolve around the ability to prove the other party’s negligence.  You may be wondering, what is negligence?  Negligence is the main factor used in determining fault or accountability that results in injury.

This article will help to explain what negligence is and whether it may apply to your case.  A negligence lawyer may be your next step.

If you or a loved one has been injured through the negligence of another, call our negligence lawyers of Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 for a 100% free case evaluation.

What is the Legal Definition of Negligence? 

Negligence is when someone fails to conduct themselves according to a standard or level of care.  This standard of care may vary based on who the other party is and the surrounding circumstances.  If a person violates a standard of care, they are required to compensate the individual that was harmed.


When a personal injury lawyer reviews your case, they will need to determine if all the elements of negligence are met.  The legal definition of negligence can only be determined by an experienced attorney.

There are four main elements to negligence. Each element is necessary and must be proven.  The four elements are duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.  If one of the elements cannot be proven, then you will not be successful in your claim and will not receive compensation for your injuries.

Duty of care 

The first element is whether the defendant, the third party, owed you, the plaintiff, a legal duty of care.  There are a few situations where a legal duty of care is created between the plaintiff and the defendant.  A duty of care arises when one party has the obligation to exercise the same level of reasonable care that another person would in the same or similar circumstance.

Some actors will be held to a higher standard of care.  This includes caretakers such as doctors, innkeepers, specialists or those with superior knowledge and skill, and those caring for children, the elderly, or pregnant women.

The duty of care usually applies to taking care not to do something, but may also include the duty to act.  These are called omissions.  

The general rule that everyone must take reasonable care can vary between situations or the actors involved.  The same conduct may be viewed as negligent in one circumstance, but not in another.  Factors such as the relationship between parties, the activities engaged in, and the way others would act can determine what is reasonable.

Breach of duty

The second element is whether the defendant breached the duty owed to the plaintiff.  The duty may have been breached by doing something that the average, reasonable person under similar circumstances would or would not have done.


The third element is causation.  Causation requires that the plaintiff demonstrate that the defendant’s breach of duty was the cause of the plaintiff’s injury and damages.  The damage must have been foreseeable.  If the damage caused to the plaintiff was unexpected and unforeseeable, then the defendant may be found to be not liable. 

Proximate cause shows that an event is related to an injury.  It shows that the action produced a foreseeable result without any intervention from anyone else.  Proximate cause is the direct link between a negligent act and the injury that resulted from that action.


The last element is damages.  The plaintiff must have suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s negligence.  This may mean the plaintiff suffered an injury or monetary loss which include medical costs, lost wages, or pain and suffering.

Examples of Each Element 

If a person does not act as a reasonable person would in a similar circumstance, they may be found negligent.  Below are examples for each of the four elements.

Duty of Care

For example, all drivers on public roads have a duty to and are expected to maintain their vehicles in a safe condition.  They have a duty to abide by all traffic laws while operating their vehicle in a safe and reasonable manner.

Another example is that property owners have a duty to maintain a safe premises if their property is open to the public.  This may include regularly inspecting their property for dangers, warning of potential dangers, and fixing the hazards within a reasonable time.

An example of a breach of duty would be if a driver failed to abide by traffic laws by speeding or driving under the influence.  By choosing to violate these rules, the driver has breached a duty owed to all other drivers on the road.

If a property owner was a business that invited the public onto the land to shop and did not warn of or make safe an unknown danger, then there may be a breach of duty.  If a floor is mopped and there is no caution or wet floor sign placed to warn of the slippery floor, and someone slips and falls, a duty has been breached.


If by driving under the influence or speeding, the defendant collides with another driver who is then injured, there is causation.  The plaintiff or the other driver would not have been injured if it were not for the defendant’s actions.  The driver’s failure to exercise reasonable care while driving is reasonably related to the plaintiff’s injuries.

If a business patron cannot tell that a floor is wet after it has been mopped and there is no caution sign, they may slip and fall.  If the plaintiff is injured, this injury could have been avoided if there was a warning to be cautious of the wet floor.  The plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the property owner failing to warn of a hidden danger that reasonably caused the plaintiff’s injuries, so there is causation.


If a plaintiff is injured in a car accident because the defendant was speeding or driving under the influence, then the plaintiff has suffered damages.  The plaintiff may have medical bills for the injuries suffered in the crash.  The defendant is liable to the plaintiff for any damages caused as a result of his negligence.

Slipping and falling on a hard floor may cause injuries such as a sprained ankle or bruising.  If the plaintiff is injured as a result of defendant’s negligence in not warning about a wet floor, then there are damages.

Other Factors and Examples of Negligence

There are many ways a party may be liable to you on a negligence theory.  For example, if an employee was acting negligently on the job, the employer may also be held responsible.  If an accident was caused by a defective product, the seller or maker of the product may be liable to you, whether or not they actually created the danger or defect.  If you were also negligent and this contributed to your injuries, then your claim may be reduced or possibly barred in some states.

Types of Negligence Claims

If you are still wondering what negligence is, negligence may refer to a wide variety of circumstances and injuries.  Additionally, depending on where you live, each state may have a varying degree of criteria in determining what is a duty and what is negligent.

Some examples may include:

How Much Compensation is Possible? 

Each case for negligence will be different and unique.  There is no average cost of compensation for a personal injury or negligence claim.  Consider some of the following factors that could play a role in how much you could recover.

The type of negligence that led to your injuries may be small or substantial.  The severity of injuries suffered may also vary.  There may be short-term or long-term effects of your injuries.  If there is a loss of income, this will be different for each person.

Statute of Limitations 

The statute of limitations is a time limit for filing a claim.  In many states, the statute of limitations for filing a negligence claim is two years.  The statute of limitations begins to run the moment of your injury, so filing a claim as soon as possible is important.  You should consider contacting an experienced personal injury lawyer to help assess your claim for negligence as quickly as possible.

Zinda Law Group May Help You Seek Damages

At Zinda Law Group, our negligence lawyers are experienced and have handled many cases involving negligent actors.  We have the knowledge and resources necessary to help you determine what to do next and to help recover the best possible outcome for your case.

Call us today at (800) 863-5312 for a free and confidential consultation with one of our personal injury lawyers.  You will pay nothing unless we win your case.  That’s our No Win, No Fee Guarantee. Check out our blog for more resources.

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