The law of negligence requires people to conduct themselves in a manner that conforms to certain standards of conduct. Where a person's actions violate those standards, the law requires the person to compensate anyone who is injured as a result. In some instances, the law of negligence also covers a person's omission to act.
In tort law, negligence is a distinct cause of action. The Restatement (Second) of Torts defines negligence as "conduct that falls below the standard established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm." Below, you’ll find information on how to prove negligence as well as specific duties that may arise.
The Elements of Negligence
In a successful negligence suit, the plaintiff must show that each of the following five elements was present:
(1) a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff
(2) a breach of that duty
(3) an actual causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the resulting harm
(4) proximate cause, which relates to whether the harm was foreseeable
(5) damages resulting from the defendant's conduct.
Duty can arise in any number of situations. For example, a driver owes a duty to other motorists to drive safely and observe the rules of the road. By running a stop sign, the driver arguably breaches that duty. If someone was injured as a result of the driver’s failure to stop, the injured party would have a good argument that the breach was both the cause in fact and proximate cause of his or her injuries.
In some instances, a statute or other law may define specific duties, such as the duty of a person to rescue another. Professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, are also required to uphold a standard of care expected in their profession. When a professional fails to uphold such a standard of care and an injury results, the professional may be liable for malpractice – a tort based on the law of negligence.