If you’ve been injured in a car, motorcycle, truck, or other type of vehicle accident, you’re going to have to prove the other party was negligent and caused your injuries. “Negligence” is called a cause of action. This is the main legal theory you’ll base your claim on to receive compensation for accident injuries and property damage.
What is negligence?
Negligence by definition is the failure to take proper care of doing something. In the legal context, specifically with car accidents, it’s the failure to properly operate the vehicle under the law or conditions that results in an accident. To prove negligence, you must meet all of the elements.
Every cause of action has “elements.” Each element of a cause of action must be met (proven with evidence) for you to win at trial or to settle a case.
What are the elements of negligence?
Negligence contains four elements to prove liability in a car accident: duty, breach, causation, and damages.
The first element to be met is duty. This requires there to be a rule, law, or a regular way of doing things. Before getting a driver’s license, everyone has to learn the rules of the road for the test. Once we pass the test, it’s assumed we know the laws and rules and it is the accepted way of doing things. A driver’s duty while on the road is to obey and follow traffic laws and drive reasonably in the conditions. Drivers have a duty not only to other drivers on the road, but also pedestrians that they’ll use reasonable care when operating their vehicle. For example, there is a duty not to: speed, drive while intoxicated, text or use electronic devices while driving, etc.
Once the duty is established, the at-fault or negligent party, must have breached it while operating the vehicle. The breach must be something done outside of the accepted form of doing things. Typically when an accident occurs, at least one of the drivers failed to follow rules of the road. For example, if a driver ran a red light, the duty is to obey the law of traffic signals. The breach would be failing to stop at it.
The next step is to cause that the accident was what injured you. While this sounds fairly simple, this can actually be why many people lose their claims. The first thing you need to do to prove causation is to seek immediate medical attention. If you don’t see a doctor, then the insurance company won’t believe you’re injured or that your injuries are that serious. This will also likely prevent you from getting pain and suffering damages.
Second, if you see a doctor but fail to keep up your appointments, don’t keep up with treatment, or follow their orders, this will cause problems for your claim. If there is extended period between your treatments and it is inconsistent, the insurance company will argue you’re not as injured as you claim. As more time goes on they’ll also argue that something else was the cause of your injury unrelated to the accident.
If your case goes to trial, all the defense has to do is create enough doubt with the jury to disprove any one element, especially causation. They don’t have to prove that it was a specific thing that caused it (i.e., skiing accident, tripped and fell down the stairs, pre-existing medical condition)—just that it wasn’t the car accident. This is why medical care is so important after an accident. It proves the injuries are from the collision.
Simply being in a car accident doesn’t entitle you to being paid. Many people wrongly believe that as soon as they’re hit, they’re going to get paid. This isn’t correct. Not only do you have to show the accident was the cause of your injuries, you must show that injury/damage actually occurred.
This is done through medical records, bills, notes from your doctor/employer, repair bills, invoices, and other documents. You must be able to prove (with evidence) that you suffered injury to your body and had out of pocket expenses. Once you prove that you have an actual injury, you’ll also be able to collect pain and suffering damages.
How does the insurance company defend negligence?
For a plaintiff to win at trial they must prove each of the above elements with evidence. But the defense only has to poke a hole in one of them to win. It can be any of the four elements.
For duty, the insurance company might argue that there was no duty. Their driver was driving within the law and reasonably operating their vehicle given the conditions.
A breach argument may be that the breach never occurred because their driver had a green light. If they had a green light they didn’t breach any duty because they were within the law and had the right of way.
They may argue their driver wasn’t the cause of the accident. That it was actually you who was at fault and caused the accident so your injuries weren’t caused by the negligence of the other driver.
And for damages they may argue that the medical treatment was excessive. That based on the type of injury, the medical bills and pain and suffering should be much lower.
Ultimately, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show that all of the elements can be met with evidence.
My name is Daniel Hanecak and I am a San Diego Car Accident Lawyer. I know from personal experience how stressful and time consuming a car accident can be. When you call Hanecak Law Inc., you will speak with me directly. It is my aim to provide you with free and friendly advice. Call me today at (858) 206-4326 for a free case evaluation.