Negligence: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Accidents happen every day, and often no one intended them. Yet, regardless of whether there was ill-will behind the action, significant damages and devastating injuries can result. Even worse, the victims of these accidents are often left feeling confused and worried because they do not know who they need to turn to for help or whether they can collect compensation for their injuries.

One of the most important tasks of a personal injury lawyer is helping victims understand that they do have someone that can provide them with the help that they need and that yes, they can go after the at-fault individual for the compensation that they deserve.

Here at Jacoby & Meyers, LLP, our personal injury attorneys deal with all sorts of injury cases ranging from automobile crashes, to slip and falls, to medical malpractice suits. Yet, regardless of how different each personal injury accident is, one common concept ties these incidents together, and that is the legal theory of negligence. In today’s blog, we will delve into what negligence is, what you need to show to prove negligence, and how you can collect damages from a negligent party.

Common Law vs. Statutory Law

Before we begin tackling the complex legal concept of negligence, we need to discuss the nature of the laws that govern our country. Statutory law and common law are both observed by most of the world.

A combination is required for our justice system to work properly.

  • Statutory laws are passed by legislative bodies (like Congress or a state legislature) to govern the conduct of the people within that government’s jurisdiction. Some common examples of statutory laws include traffic laws, tax laws, and criminal codes.
  • Common law, otherwise known as case law, is a legal system that has evolved through decisions made by court judges. Common law often comes into play when the courts make decisions regarding specific situations that are not absolutely clear in a statute. Common law basically tries to interpret statutes and resolve gray areas in our legal system.

What Is Negligence?

Most personal injury lawsuits involve a negligence claim. Negligence is a legal theory that applies when a person acts carelessly, and their actions result in another individual getting injured.

However, negligence claims require more than showing that an individual failed to act with ordinary care. This legal theory also requires the victim to show that there was a reasonably foreseeable danger, and the other person’s conduct created that danger.

What makes negligence such a difficult area of law is the amount of legal analysis necessary to prove that an individual’s actions were negligent. That is why if you want to bring a negligence claim against someone, it is essential to speak with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. This will not only ensure that evidence is not lost, but that you meet critical filing timelines, as well.

Proving Negligence

In New York, for an individual to bring a successful negligence claim, they must prove the following four elements: duty, breach of duty, proximate cause, and damages.

1. Did the Defendant Owe a Duty of Care to the Victim?

Under the first element of duty, New York negligence law follows a reasonable person standard, which holds that an individual must legally provide the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would provide under similar circumstances.

2. Did the Defendant Breach This Duty?

To prove the second element, the plaintiff must prove that not only were they owed a duty of care, but the defendant breached this duty through their negligent actions. Simply put, to show that a defendant was negligent for their actions, the plaintiff needs to show that if the average person had known that their actions could injure someone, they would have acted differently than the defendant did.

3. Did This Breach of Duty Cause the Plaintiff Harm?

The third element of negligence, proximate cause, asks whether it is legally fair to connect the injury that the plaintiff sustained to the breach of duty and whether the defendant could have reasonably foreseen that their actions would cause this injury. However, this foreseeability concept is often quite complicated and can extend to include many different situations and even third parties.

For example:

  • Medical malpractice: In some situations, a defendant can harm someone through medical malpractice if they caused the original injury. For example, an individual is in a car accident and they need surgery to fix their injuries, but during the operation, the plaintiff suffers harm due to medical malpractice, the person who caused the accident might be on the hook for the plaintiff’s medical malpractice injury as well as the original accident. This concept can be quite challenging to understand and requires a personal injury lawyer to properly pursue. However, what it basically boils down to is that it was foreseeable that a medical malpractice injury could result after an accident that required surgery. Therefore, the defendant that caused the accident is at fault for the additional medical malpractice injuries.
  • Danger invites rescue: In our country, the law recognizes that it is a common impulse for humans to attempt to help each other in times of need and danger. That is why if an individual intervenes in a situation to protect another person from an injury for which the defendant is liable and the intervenor suffers an injury, the defendant can face responsibility for that injury under this rescue doctrine.

4. Are Damages an Appropriate Remedy for the Plaintiff’s Harm?

The last element of negligence is that of damages. When trying to prove damages, the plaintiff must show that a financial award is fair and equitable and required to help restore them to the position they would be in if the harm never occurred.

Going After the Defendant’s Insurance

In certain accidents, there may be more than one defendant that you can sue. However, trying to decide which party you should go after may require factoring in a lot of components, including how much insurance the defendants have. This can help you determine how much compensation you can collect from each of the defendants. Discussing these complicated insurance issues with a personal injury attorney can ensure that you make decisions that are most beneficial for your case and that you also pursue all the possible avenues that you can to collect as much compensation as possible.

Basics of Insurance Coverage

One aspect of insurance coverage that is important to remember is that the amount of insurance that you can collect really depends on how much insurance the at-fault party has purchased. When you sue for damages, you will only obtain up to the limit of the defendant’s insurance policy. When this issue arises, many victims worry about who will cover the remaining expenses. This is especially true if the defendant does not have any other assets to pay the remaining costs.

Pursue Only the Insured Amount

One way attorneys take care of this problem is to only go after the amount that the defendant is insured for. An attorney may recommend this course of action if they find that the defendant is financially prudent, meaning they purchased adequate insurance, and the defendant did not intend to commit the accident. In these situations, the attorney may limit their client’s claim for damages to the defendant’s insurance coverage limit, even if their client’s expenses exceed that amount.

Yes, this may seem unjust and unfair to the victim, but it also may be impossible to recover any remaining costs directly from the defendant. When you are trying to obtain compensation, you cannot freeze a defendant’s assets until a judgment is received. And during this time, the defendant can move around their assets and relocate them to other family member accounts, complicating the process.

A defendant also may simply not have the cash on hand or assets worth enough to cover the remaining expenses. In these situations, it may not be worth the personal stress, time, and money to pursue a claim for more than what the defendant is insured for.

Discussing all of these options with your attorney can help you decide on the best course of action for your situation.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Each state has its own laws regarding how much insurance coverage an individual needs to purchase. Under New York law, drivers are required to have liability insurance coverage in the following amounts:

  • $25,000 for injuries to one individual and $50,000 for the death of one individual in a one-car accident;
  • $50,000 for injuries to multiple individuals and $100,000 for deaths of multiple individuals in a one-car accident; and
  • $10,000 for damage to property in a one-car accident.

Victims who are injured in a motor vehicle accident by a motorist who is uninsured or only carries the minimum insurance are often limited in their ability to recover for all of their damages unless they have additional coverage through their own insurance.

Underinsured motorist coverage allows people to recover from their own insurance policy in motor vehicle accidents when an at-fault driver does not have enough insurance to cover all of the injuries and damages caused in the accident. This extra policy coverage kicks in and begins to pay for a victim’s costs when the at-fault driver’s policy is exhausted.

When purchasing this coverage, it is also essential to look into the specific coverage rules, since they may also cover all family members who reside with you.

Insurance Company Problems

Many people wrongly assume that an insurance company wants to help them after an accident. However, this generally is far from the truth. In reality, many insurance companies routinely deny claims, leaving those who have been injured with skyrocketing medical bills and many questions about why they were rejected.

In these situations, it is important to have the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer, who can not only take over all the communications with your insurance company but can also make sure that you are treated with the respect and fairness that you deserve.

Representation in a Negligence Claim

Many injury victims are frustrated and worried about their injuries, treatment costs, lost wages, and other expenses incurred due to someone else’s negligence. As mentioned above, the whole purpose of personal injury law is to return the victim to the position they were in before the accident. However, in truth, this is usually impossible to do.

Some injuries damage a person in such a way that there is no going back to how they once were. Yet, all hope is not lost. With the help of the legal system and a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer, victims can try to go after damages, which can help restore them to the best position possible.

When you work with a personal injury attorney in a negligence case, you can expect the following:

  • You will have experienced counsel making a thorough investigation of your case.
  • You will receive a knowledgeable and honest assessment of your claim.
  • You will get the assistance you need to make informed decisions about any settlement offers that you receive.
  • You will have an experienced legal team working on your case from start to finish, in the hopes of getting you the best possible outcome.

If you or a family member have been harmed due to someone else’s negligence, now is the time to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. Let a personal injury attorney fight for you and your rights.

Jacoby & Meyers, LLP
Personal Injury Law