After more than four decades helping people in the greater Boston area get the justice they deserve…

After more than four decades helping people in the greater Boston area get the justice they deserve, our team of attorneys and lawyers at Swartz & Swartz P.C. knows that the most common type of personal injury lawsuits involves a claim of negligence. In a nutshell, negligence describes a situation in which a person acts in a careless (or negligent) way, which results in someone else getting hurt or property being damaged.

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We know that proving negligence can be difficult, because it involves a legal analysis of the elements of negligence as they relate to the particular facts of a case. In today’s blog post we are going to take an in-depth look at negligence in personal injury cases, paying particular attention to the four essential elements of a negligence case that the plaintiff must prove to win their case. 

1. Duty of Care

Success in negligence depends on proof that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. Generally speaking, a duty arises when the law recognizes a relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff requiring the defendant to act in a certain manner, with an established standard of care, toward the plaintiff. Let’s use an example to see how this works in real life.

Say a bakery owner was putting bags of flour into the company van and one of the bags falls out and hits a woman. In negligence cases, the first question that should be answered is whether the bakery owner owed a duty of care to the woman. In this fictional case, the plaintiff would be the woman who was hit, and the defendant is the bakery owner. If the van was parked near a public place, like a sidewalk, and the woman was just walking by and happened to get hit, the court fact-finder (usually a jury)  may be more likely to find that the defendant owed a duty to the woman. On the other hand, if the woman was trespassing on bakery property and the bakery owner didn’t know that the woman was skulking around at the time of the accident, then it might be less likely to find that the defendant owed a duty of care to the woman.

2. Breach of Duty 

Successful personal injury cases also need proof that the negligent party breached their duty of care to the other person. Generally speaking, a defendant breaches this duty by failing to exercise reasonable care in fulfilling the duty. Continuing our example that we used above, a jury would decide whether the bakery owner exercised reasonable care in handling the bags of flour near the woman. If the bakery owner was just haphazardly tossing bags of flour into the van without paying much attention as to how secure they were once inside the van, a jury would more likely conclude that a breach of duty occurred. However, if the bakery owner had been carefully placing the bags of flour into the van, and the actions of an unreliable person contributed to the bag falling out and hitting the woman, a jury may decide that reasonable care had been taken and that a breach of duty did not occur. 

Successful personal injury cases also need proof that the negligent party breached their duty of care to the other person.

3. Direct & Proximate Cause 

Just as importantly, in successful negligence cases, a plaintiff also must prove that the defendant’s actions were the actual (or direct) and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Direct causation is often referred to as “but-for” causation, meaning that, but for the defendant’s actions, the plaintiff’s injury would not have occurred. Looking at our example again, the plaintiff could prove this element by showing that but for the bakery owner’s negligent act of carelessly tossing the flour into the van, she would not have been struck and injured. Proximate cause means that your injuries were a natural and foreseeable result of the defendant’s act (or failure to act). 

4. Damages

The final element of a personal injury case is damages. Generally speaking, a plaintiff must prove they experienced damages as a result of their injury. Why is this important? Because an injured party is entitled to damages from an at-fault party to compensate for their losses. In successful cases, you have to be able to show an injury or damages of some kind. Without damages, negligence does not produce a compensable cause of action. What this means is that you are not entitled to be compensated if there is no injury, damage, or loss. 

Using our example, the woman who was hit with the bag of flour could prove she experienced damages if the impact caused her to fall and hit her head and sustain a concussion. The damages the woman would pursue would be the costs associated medical attention she needed to diagnose and treat her head injury, as well as future medical costs, along with other compensable elements of damages such as economic issues, and pain & suffering.

At Swartz & Swartz, P.C., our personal injury law team has proven experience and expertise, as well as a background of success with negligence cases. Please contact us if you have been a victim of someone else’s negligence. You can call us at (617) 742-1900 or, if you are outside the Boston area, call toll-free at 1-800-545-3732. You may also contact us online.

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Mr. Angueira is an accomplished senior trial lawyer at Swartz & Swartz, P.C., who has obtained record breaking results for his clients. He was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1982 and the New York Bar in 1983. He specializes Employment Litigation, Medical Malpractice, Product Liability, Discrimination, Whistle Blower and False Claims.



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