Civil Negligence and Liability in New Jersey: An Overview
The terms “negligence” and “liability” are often used interchangeably. These terms, however, have very different meanings. Negligence, in the context of personal injury law, is a legal standard that must be met by a plaintiff in order to recover compensation for damages. Proving negligence generally requires four main elements of proof. Liability is closely related to negligence, and refers to legal responsibility for acts of negligence. If a party is found to be negligent, then they are liable for the damages caused by their behavior.
When you are injured or suffer loss in an accident due to the acts or omissions of someone else, you may be able to seek compensation for damages in a civil lawsuit. In the lawsuit, you will typically have to prove that the person was negligent.
There are generally four elements comprising a claim for negligence: 1) duty of care; 2) breach of duty of care; 3) causation; and 4) damages. When litigating a personal injury case, it is necessary to prove each of these elements by a preponderance of the evidence in order to prove the claim for negligence.
Duty of Care / Breach
Duty of care and breach of the duty of care deal with the conduct of the negligent party. Most people have a duty to use reasonable care and prudence in their activities, so as not to cause harm, loss, or damage to another. When they fail to uphold this duty of care, and their conduct falls below the required standard, it is considered a breach of the duty of care.
For example, a property owner or maintainer may owe a duty of care to people who are legally upon their property. Whether a duty of care is owed to a person depends on a number of factors, including whether the person in an invitee, customer, tenant, trespasser, etc. If a duty of care is owed, then the owner or maintainer of the property must take reasonable precautions to ensure the property is safe.
This may require the clearing of ice and snow from walkways to prevent accidents. For operators of motor vehicles, this means they must operate their vehicles in reasonable and safe fashion, in accordance with applicable traffic laws. For employers, this means ensuring that their worksite is reasonably safe for employees and third-parties who are performing work thereupon.
Causation is concerned with how a defendant’s negligent conduct impacted the victim. That is, the defendant’s breach of the duty of care must be proven to be the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Thus, if a defendant breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff, but did not cause the injuries, the defendant will not be held liable for the damages.
Causation is often a hotly contested issue in medical malpractice actions, where plaintiffs may have pre-existing medical conditions which are partially to blame for their current complaints. Toxic tort matters frequently involve disputes as to causation. For example, asbestos exposure cases involving pulmonary and respiratory illness may involve plaintiffs who were exposed to various toxins, in addition to asbestos, during their careers. They must prove that it was the asbestos, not the other toxins, that caused their injuries.
Thus, in all negligence cases, the injured plaintiff must prove that their injuries were caused by the defendant’s breach of the applicable duty of care.
Damages refer to the harms and losses suffered by the victim. To sue for negligence, you must demonstrate economic and/or non-economic damages.
Economic damages may include out-of-pocket costs, bills for medical treatment and lost wages. Non-economic damages typically consist of pain, suffering, disability, impairment and loss of enjoyment of life. Each damage must be separately proven by the injured plaintiff in a personal injury case.
Once you demonstrate negligence in a personal injury lawsuit, liability follows. Liability is legal responsibility for the damages caused by negligence. Many motorists, businesses, and other parties open to potential personal injury claims carry liability insurance to cover these damages should they become liable.
Proving negligence and establishing liability in a personal injury case is no easy task. Insurance companies and their lawyers vigorously fight against these claims. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help injury victims pursue justice and needed compensation for the harms and losses they suffer.