Understanding Negligence: The Linchpin of Personal Injury Lawsuits

Negligence is a very important, and oftentimes a misunderstood, concept in the law. It is important because if you were in an accident and can prove that there has been negligence by the other party, and that negligence was the proximate cause of your injuries, you are well on your way to recouping damages for your injuries. Without a finding of negligence, however, you face an uphill battle to get compensation.

Just what is negligence, though? In the personal injury world, it has a very specific definition complete with five elements that must be met before you can proceed with your case. At its essence, negligence occurs when you are injured directly because of something that someone else did or didn’t do, and they acted without the amount of care legally expected of them. It is when you are sitting at a red light and you are rear-ended because the driver behind you was texting and not paying attention, leaving you with whiplash injuries and numerous damages to your car. The other driver was negligent because his inattention made him fail to stop when he was required to and that failure directly injured you and damaged your car.

In Michigan, as in most states, in a case involving negligence, the injured party suing the person who injured them must show the following elements: 1) the defendant owed them a duty (i.e., they had a duty not to rear end the plaintiff); 2) the defendant breached that duty (i.e. the defendant failed to not rear end the plaintiff); 3) but for that failure, the plaintiff would not have been injured (i.e. the plaintiff would have gone when the light turned green with the car and her neck intact); 4) it was entirely foreseeable that defendant’s failure would result in the damages (i.e. the plaintiff’s injuries were an obvious result of defendant’s inattention); and, 5) the plaintiff suffered actual damages, be it injuries, financial loss, or both.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? As with most things in the law, it depends. One particular game changer, at least for the defendant, is the concept of comparative fault. Michigan is a comparative fault state, as opposed to its cousin, contributory negligence. This means that if the plaintiff had any fault in the subject accident, or damages resulting from that accident, he or she can be found to be comparatively at fault and, depending upon the amount of fault that is found, can have any damage award lowered or even cancelled.    

So, let’s revise our earlier example to show how a plaintiff can be comparatively negligent. The plaintiff is now a pedestrian at a busy cross-walk. She is also texting and looking at her phone.  She fails to look both ways, steps into traffic and is hit by the gentleman who is also texting while driving. Here, because she was distracted and walked into traffic, she was hit by the other distracted driver. Her pain and suffering damages will probably be reduced by a certain percentage because she too was somewhat at fault for her injuries.  

If you’ve been injured in an accident, it is critical to have knowledgeable counsel review your case and help you get the compensation you need and deserve. Consider contacting the law firm of Carla D. Aikens, P.C. and let us guide you throughout the process, and handle any rocky legal shoals with efficiency and professionalism.

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Written by Carla D. Aikens

Carla D. Aikens

After years of working for large law firms on major corporate cases, Carla D. Aikens chose to go out on her own and found her own firm because she is passionate about helping people of whom others have taken advantage.