Feb 29, 2024 Michael M. Day Law Firm

How Do You Prove Negligence?

You’ve probably heard that if you’re injured in a car accident, slip and fall incident, hotel disaster or other incident caused by someone’s negligence, you can recover compensation for your pain, suffering, and other losses. But how do you know when someone has been negligent?

The topic of negligence can be very complex legally. Proving negligence generally requires a significant amount of evidence as well. For those reasons, it is wise to consult a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after an injury so that your legal advocate can help you gather evidence and take the right actions to preserve your legal claim.

Let’s take a look at how Georgia law defines negligence and how attorneys typically prove negligence in personal injury cases.

What is Negligence?

In the simplest sense, negligence is the failure to act responsibly, or as judges have described it, “the absence of the exercise of ordinary diligence.” Someone can act negligently either by doing something they should not have done or by failing to do something they should have done.

When a person acts carelessly or fails to use the reasonable care that others would use in the same circumstances, they can be held liable for negligence. However, acting negligently and being held legally liable for those negligent actions are two different things. If a person looks at their cell phone while they are driving, they are acting negligently. But if that action doesn’t cause a collision and no one is hurt due to the irresponsible behavior, then that driver cannot be held liable and required to pay damages. The driver could be held responsible for a traffic violation and receive a ticket. That is a separate legal issue apart from liability for injuries.

The Elements That Need to Be Proven for Negligence Liability in Georgia

To recover compensation from a person who has acted with negligence, the attorney representing the person who was injured must prove to the court that four elements have been satisfied. As a practical matter, when an attorney is prepared to show these elements to an insurance company, that demonstration is often enough to convince the insurance company that they will lose in court, so they offer to pay reasonable compensation without the need for a trial. But whether a case settles or proceeds to a judge, the attorney should still be prepared to prove the four legal elements of negligence.

Element 1: Duty of Care Owed to the Victim

The person accused of negligent behavior must have owed some duty of care to the person who was injured. This duty could be a general duty owed to a broad class of people or a duty owed specifically to the injured person. For example, drivers owe a legal duty to everyone on the road to follow the Georgia Rules of the Road as well as applicable local laws. As an example of a more targeted duty of care, property owners owe a duty to those they invite onto their property to keep the premises safe. However, they do not owe the same duty of care to someone who is trespassing on the property.

To satisfy the first element of negligence, you must prove that the person you are alleging negligence against owed a duty of care to you and establish what that duty was.

Element 2: Breach of Duty

After you demonstrate the type of duty that was owed to you, then you need to prove that the person accused of negligence violated that duty. Breach is the term often used in the law, but it simply means that the person failed to act as they should have. In the example above, the driver breached the duty to others on the road by taking their eyes and attention away from the road. Other examples of a breach of duty might be failing to clean up oil spilled on the floor of a store, leaving a dangerous condition for shoppers, or failing to perform scheduled brake maintenance on a commercial truck, allowing the brakes to fail and cause an accident.

To satisfy the second element of negligence, you must prove that the person you are alleging negligence against failed to live up to the duty they owed to you.

Element 3: Proximate Cause

The third element of negligence is often the most difficult to prove. You must demonstrate that the irresponsible behavior—the breach of duty—was the cause of your injuries. This is where it becomes vitally important to collect and preserve evidence right after the incident. For instance, there may be traffic camera footage showing a driver operating at high speed, but that footage may be automatically recorded over unless an attorney puts in a request for a subpoena to preserve it. Witnesses might have seen a vehicle weaving through traffic, but as time goes on, it can be harder to find those witnesses, and their memories are less reliable. Photos of an accident scene can also provide valuable clues attorneys can use to demonstrate how a defendant’s actions caused an accident and resulting injuries, but photos should be taken as soon after the accident as possible.

To satisfy the third element of negligence, you need evidence to show how the irresponsible behavior caused the accident.

Element 4: Specific Harm

Finally, to recover compensation for negligent behavior, the victim must demonstrate that they suffered specific injuries or other losses. Medical records and bills often provide the most concrete evidence of special damages including compensation for wages lost due to time off work and medical expenses.

Once you have proven the extent of your injuries, you may also be entitled to damages to compensate you for harm such as pain, suffering, emotional anguish and other effects that do not have a direct economic equivalent but have a tremendous effect on your life.

Michael M. Day Law Firm, LLC Can Help You Prove Negligence

Evidence is the key to proving the four elements of negligence and recovering compensation for your losses after an incident such as a motorcycle accident or animal attack. The experienced team at Michael M. Day Law Firm, LLC understands how to collect and preserve the most critical evidence and how to present that evidence persuasively to demonstrate negligence and recover full and fair compensation. We invite you to call us at 404-480-4284 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation.