What is Negligence?

In a word, ‘negligence’ is the legal term for ‘carelessness.’ Like most other legal concepts, however, it gets a lot more complicated than that. There are different kinds of negligence with different consequences. 

Ordinary Negligence Claims

Someone carelessly injured you, and you file a claim against them or their insurance company. Alternatively, you skip the preliminaries and just sue them. Without more, this is an ordinary negligence claim. See below for a list of the facts you have to prove to win such a claim.

Duty of Care

Everyone except small children and the mentally incompetent has the duty to act with care to prevent themselves from injuring others. You might argue that this duty is based on common sense, meaning don’t drive a car with bad brakes, for example. 

Certain professionals, such as doctors, must comply with a far more demanding duty of care when practicing their profession. 

Breach of Duty

‘Breach of duty’ occurs when someone with a duty of care fails to meet its demands. There are two ways of breaching the duty of care: by doing something you shouldn’t do and by not doing something you should do.

Damages

In a Georgia personal injury case, ‘damages’ means physical injury and its consequences (including emotional consequences). A serious injury can generate very high damages, sometimes adding up to millions of dollars. 

Causation

You must prove two kinds of causation to win: actual cause and proximate cause.

Actual Cause

‘Actual cause’ refers to the situation where you could honestly say that ‘but for’ a certain event, such as a driver running a red light, your accident would not have happened. An accident report, especially one issued by the police, might include an assessment of actual cause. 

Proximate cause

Proximate cause focuses on foreseeability; given the defendant’s breach of duty, were your injuries a foreseeable consequence? If not, then proximate cause is lacking.

Gross Negligence 

Gross negligence means something like ‘extreme negligence.’ In Georgia personal injury cases it is most relevant (i) when the defendant asserts an assumption of risk defense and (ii) when you are seeking punitive damages.

Assumption of Risk

In an assumption of risk defense, the defendant argues that you knew the risks of an activity in advance and you voluntarily accepted it. A classic example is a broken leg from skydiving. 

In many cases, the plaintiff has signed a waiver of liability that purports to release the defendant from liability for any accident. A waiver of liability is typically effective to disclaim ordinary negligence, but not necessarily gross negligence.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are an extra amount that a court might award you to punish the defendant for outrageous behavior. Proving that the defendant acted with gross negligence is one way to qualify for punitive damage.

Vicarious Liability

If you shoulder vicarious liability, you can bear liability for negligence committed by others. So, what circumstances trigger vicarious liability in Georgia? Some examples follow:

  • An employee carelessly injures someone while acting within the scope of their employment (employer liability).
  • A parent fails to supervise their child, leading to injury to someone else (parental liability).
  • A business owner allows a dangerous condition to persist on their property, resulting in an injury to a visitor (premises liability).
  • Party A entrusts their car to Party B, who then causes an accident.

In all of the foregoing cases, you can sue one party for the misdeeds of another party.

Negligence Per Se

Under negligence per se, you prove that the defendant breached their duty of care by proving that they violated a safety statute or regulation. That doesn’t necessarily win your negligence claim, but it makes it easier to win.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence applies when you are partly at fault for your own injuries. If you were less than 50% at fault, you will lose damages equal to your own percentage of fault (35%, for example). If you were 50% or more at fault, you will walk away from your claim empty-handed.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) differs from ordinary personal injury claims because NIED claims focus solely on emotional distress as the primary harm, even in the absence of physical injury. 

However, NIED still requires a showing of negligence and physical manifestations of distress.

Contrast: Strict Liability

Strict liability means liability without fault, including liability without negligence. Below are some examples of parties who bear strict liability:

  • Manufacturers and distributors of dangerous products, such as a defective medical device;
  • People who engage in ultrahazardous activities, such as transporting hazardous materials.
  • People who keep wild animals or animals previously designated as dangerous.
  • Property owners whose property harms neighboring property owners through pollution or excessive noise.

If you are subject to strict liability, you are essentially the insurer of the safety of your activities. You don’t have to be negligent to bear liability.

Let Our Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyers Help You Get Your Life Back on Track

When you suffer an injury caused by someone else’s negligence, it might feel like you’re getting hit with everything at once. Not only do you have your injuries to deal with, but you might have mounting medical bills, deepening debt, and legal problems with creditors. 

An experienced Atlanta personal injury lawyer can take a load off your shoulders. Call today for a free initial case consultation.