Negligence is a lack of reasonable care that results in harm to someone else. If a driver hits you because he fell asleep at the wheel, you can file a personal injury claim due to the driver’s negligence, or his failure to do something a reasonably careful person would do (i.e., pull over and rest).

Because proving negligence is the crux of proving liability in a personal injury case, it’s important for you, as the plaintiff, to understand the legal definition of negligence, as it is a concept your Suffolk County personal injury lawyer will be addressing frequently.

what is negligence in law

How do you prove negligence?

The legal definition of negligence is a four-pronged concept, and each element must be proven to demonstrate the defendant was negligent and, therefore, owes you compensation.

Duty of care

The first element of negligence is the duty of care. The defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty of care, such as the obligation to drive responsibly (not drive while sleepy or after drinking).

Breach of duty of care

If the defendant failed to exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would or that is legally expected of them (such as a doctor’s professional ethical responsibility to provide a certain standard of medical care), then the defendant breached that duty.


Next, your lawyer must prove that the defendant’s actions (or inaction) caused you harm.


Finally, your lawyer demonstrates that you suffered a loss because of the harm the defendant caused. This could be the injury itself, your medical bills, and the cost of replacing or repairing your car after an accident. Such damages could also include loss of quality of life because you suffered longer than you should have due to a medical misdiagnosis.

Examples of negligence in various types of personal injury cases

Some of the most common forms of negligence in personal injury cases include the following.

Reckless drivers

Behaviors that fall under reckless driving include speeding, tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, or drinking and driving. But drivers of other vehicles aren’t the only ones who can suffer harm from a negligent driver. A driver who is texting and driving and doesn’t see a pedestrian in a crosswalk, for instance, can cause that pedestrian serious injury.

Negligent doctors

An example of a healthcare professional engaging in medical malpractice is when they fail to order appropriate tests based on their patient’s presenting symptoms.

Careless property owners

A store owner who doesn’t clean up a puddle of water or place a wet floor sign, leading to someone slipping and falling, can be held liable for negligence.

Reckless dog owners

A dog owner who fails to restrain a vicious dog or muzzle it when taking it for a walk may be held liable if the dog bites or attacks someone.

Negligent manufacturers

A product manufacturer that fails to take proper quality assurance measures in the manufacturing process and releases a contaminated product to consumers may be held liable under product liability law.

What is the “reasonable person” standard in negligence law?

Essentially, the reasonable person standard states that the defendant should have anticipated or should have known that their actions would cause harm to someone else. For example, the sleepy driver should have known that nodding off behind the wheel could very likely cause an accident.

Sometimes, an attorney may question an expert witness to determine what a reasonable professional would do in a specific situation. Medical malpractice cases are common cases where an expert medical witness may be needed to explain to the jury what a typical doctor would have done when treating a patient with the symptoms you presented, like ordering blood work or a CT scan.

Hurt in an incident that wasn’t your fault? We’ll help hold the other party liable for negligence.

Turn to a skilled legal team with deep knowledge of liability and holding negligent parties accountable for their actions. Call Carner & DeVita for a free consultation today.