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Proof in a Negligence Case

You're walking through your local grocery store, trying to plan tonight's dinner. While reaching up high to grab some pasta off the top shelf, your feet slide out from underneath you, and you fall straight into a puddle of alfredo sauce that looks just like the white linoleum floor! After regaining your composure, you notice that your knee is really hurting, and you have a few cuts on your arm from the broken glass jar that look like they'll need stitches. How are you going to pay for this? Who has to pay for this? The grocery store? The manager? Whatever kid that knocked over the jar? And how are you going to prove that they're responsible? Almost every personal injury case revolves around the idea of negligence and fault, and this article goes into detail about how courts determine those issues.

Negligence Basics

The basic question in every negligence case is whether the defendant acted as a reasonable person would have in similar circumstances. If a child is suing a parent, the defendant's actions are compared to what a jury believes a reasonable parent would have done. If a patient sues a doctor, the jury will compare the doctors actions to standards in the medical community. In a car crash case, negligence may be proven if the defendant was not obeying traffic laws, and does not have an excuse for violating those laws.

Ways to Prove Negligence

A negligence case is usually proven through one of two types of evidence: direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. Evidence derived from the personal knowledge of a witness or from images in a photograph or video constitutes direct evidence. Circumstantial evidence, by comparison, requires a fact-finder to draw an inference based on the evidence that has been produced.

How Negligence Is Proven in Different Circumstances

Courts have formulated special rules that govern proof in specific types of negligence cases. Negligence in a dog bite case is proven in a different way than negligence in a medical malpractice case. In a slip-and-fall case, for instance, where a plaintiff's injury occurs when the plaintiff slips and falls due to a condition on the defendant's property, courts require the plaintiff to prove that the condition existed for such a length of time that the defendant should have discovered and remedied the condition. Thus, a plaintiff who sues a supermarket when she slips on spilled liquid laundry soap could not recover from the supermarket without showing that the liquid had been on the floor long enough for the supermarket to have discovered it. Evidence that the soap was smeared across the floor due to the number of customers walking on the liquid may be sufficient proof in this type of case.

Ways of Proving Negligence With Little Evidence

A plaintiff in some instances may rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, which is Latin for "the thing speaks for itself." This type of theory allows a jury in a negligence case to infer that a defendant acted negligently, even without other proof of misconduct. In order for this doctrine to apply, the plaintiff must prove that the event that occurred usually does not happen in the absence of negligence and that the defendant had exclusive control of the instrument that caused injury. For example, a child who was injured by the bag of grain on a public sidewalk in front of a grain producer may not have any direct or circumstantial proof that the producer was negligent in handling the bag. However, a bag of grain typically does not fly onto a public sidewalk in the absence of negligence, and the producer presumably had exclusive control over the bag at the time of the accident. In this instance, the jury may be able to infer negligence on the part of the defendant under res ipsa loquitur.

If you would like to know more about proving negligence, or if you have questions about how negligence applies in your specific case, there are many personal injury attorneys in your area who may be able to help.

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