How Do I Prove Negligence?

When you can prove that someone’s negligence led to injuries from a car accident, slip and fall, or other incident, you can often recover considerable compensation for the pain, suffering, and other losses you’ve experienced. But how do you prove negligence?

The best personal injury attorneys have spent years of focused effort learning the most effective ways to establish liability by proving negligence, so it is not possible to explain everything in one article. But we can review some of the factors that come into play.

Defining Negligence

Before you can prove negligence, you need to have a thorough understanding of how it is defined under the laws of Virginia, D.C., and Maryland. The first thing to understand, unfortunately, is the law does not establish many rules for expressly defining when conduct is negligent and when it is not. The determination is based on all of the details involved.

Essentially, a person is considered legally negligent when they do something that a reasonably prudent person would not do or they fail to do something that a reasonably prudent person would do under the circumstances. Proving how the fictional “reasonably prudent person” would behave is as much an art as a science.

A claimant seeking compensation for negligence must usually prove that four elements have been satisfied. So, attorneys in personal injury cases collect evidence to demonstrate that the case satisfies each element of negligence. That is the science. Presenting the evidence in a manner that convinces the court that the injured party should be awarded compensation for negligence is where an attorney demonstrates powers of persuasion, knowledge of the law, and skilled reasoning.

Proving the Defendant Owed a Duty to Protect You

The first element to prove in a negligence case is that the person you are alleging negligence against had a legal duty to protect you from the harm you suffered. In some cases, this is an easy element to satisfy. A driver on the road, for instance, automatically has a duty to other drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians to follow the rules of the road. This includes paying attention to what’s going on outside the vehicle rather than what’s on a cell phone. It also includes an obligation to avoid driving while under the influence of alcohol or other substances that can impair judgment.

In other cases, it may be much more difficult to prove that a defendant owed a duty of care to the person who was injured. Property owners have a general duty to protect individuals they invite onto the property from harm. However, there are numerous exceptions to this obligation. For instance, a Virginia statute specifies that a property owner owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for those who are using the property for activities such as hunting, fishing, and camping—but this statute does allow for liability if the property owner is collecting a fee or is grossly negligent.

Proving the Defendant Violated the Duty Owed

The second element in a negligence case hinges on the actions of the fictional “reasonably prudent person.” To recover compensation, the claimant must convincingly show how the defendant should have acted under the circumstances, how they actually acted, and the difference between these two.

This is usually the most contentious part of a case. Evidence from security cameras or dash cams can be extremely valuable in proving this element as well. Other crucial evidence could include testimony from witnesses and police reports. 

Evidence is most valuable when it is collected right after the injury because as time passes, an accident scene will change and the memories of witnesses become less reliable. That is one reason it is helpful to start working with an attorney as soon as possible after an accident.

Proving that the Violation of Duty Caused Injuries

Demonstrating the connection between a defendant’s failure to act responsibly and the injuries suffered by the claimant is another challenging aspect to proving negligence. It is important to present not only evidence of what happened during the accident but also evidence about what happened afterwards. In other words, you need to show that you received medical treatment that revealed injuries, and that you didn’t violate doctor’s orders or do something else that caused those injuries.

Proving the Extent of Injuries

The final element to prove in a negligence claim involves the injuries and losses suffered because of the defendant’s irresponsible behavior. Photos of injuries, records from the doctor and hospital, reports regarding therapy and rehabilitation efforts can all be used to show the severity of your injuries. If the accident reduced your future earning capacity, you may need evidence from an occupational expert.

Jennifer Porter Law, PLLC Knows How to Prove Negligence

The key to proving negligence in a personal injury case is evidence. At Jennifer Porter Law, PLLC, our team knows how to gather, preserve, and present evidence to prove liability and recover compensation for our clients. The sooner we begin working on a case, the more opportunities we have to build a strong claim for negligence. If we may be able to help you recover after an injury, contact us today for a free case evaluation.