Personal Injury 101: Elements of a Negligence Claim

Our Los Angeles-based attorneys at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP are committed to protecting the rights of individuals, including those charged with crimes and those who have suffered injuries and losses due to the negligence of others. As personal injury lawyers, we know we play an important role in not only protecting clients’ rights, but also guiding them through their legal journeys and toward the full financial compensation they are rightfully owed. Having handling a range of injury cases throughout Southern California, we know the legal issues involved in personal injury claims can be confusing for victims who aren’t familiar with the process. As such, we wanted to generally explain how they work, and what needs to be proven in order to prevail.

While personal injury cases can be brought by victims harmed in all types of preventable accidents – from truck and car crashes to injuries that occur on another’s property – injury claims are generally focused on issues of liability, often as a result of negligence. That means demonstrating how a defendant’s negligent or wrongful conduct caused a victim harm, and proving why a victim is entitled to a financial recovery of their damages. Below, we explain the important elements of a personal injury case.

  • Legal Duty – There is simply no grounds for a personal injury case unless a legal duty existed between the victim (plaintiff) and the at-fault party (defendant) whom they allege caused a preventable accident and injury. Depending on the circumstances, this legal duty can exist in various ways. In auto accident cases, for example, all drivers on the road have a legal duty to take steps that allow them to safely operate their vehicles. Doctors with whom patients have a verifiable doctor-patient relationship also have a legal duty to provide care that meets accepted standards of their profession. A legal duty defines the defendant’s obligations to a plaintiff, and sets the tone for victims to illustrate how the defendant failed to uphold those obligations.
  • Breach of Duty – After proving the existence of a legal duty and defining a defendant’s obligations, victims must focus on proving how the defendant failed to uphold those obligations. This is known as a breach of duty, and while it can also occur in various ways, it typically arises from negligence (meaning the defendant’s neglect, carelessness, or willful acts of wrongdoing were a violation of the obligations they owed a victim). In car accident cases, this breach of duty can occur when a driver fails to safely operate their vehicle (such as when they run a red light or drive drunk or distracted). For medical professionals, a breach of duty may involve their failure to provide acceptable care (such as when they make unacceptable medical mistakes, fail to identify obvious complications, or otherwise provide substandard care that other reasonably skillful medical professionals would have avoided).
  • Causation – Proving causation is one of the most important elements in a personal injury case. This requires victims to show that a defendant’s breach of duty more likely than not led their preventable injuries. “More likely than not” (also known as a preponderance of the evidence) is the burden of proof used in personal injury claims. It can be met by providing evidence as to how a defendant’s conduct likely led to an accident an injury. Alcohol intoxication, for example, will likely lead to crashes because it can cause motorists to have reduced reaction time, which may cause them to run a red light or not see other vehicles when making driving maneuvers. In some cases, such as those involving medical malpractice, proving causation may require testimony from experts who can help illustrate how a defendant’s actions likely led to preventable injuries, such as in the case of a doctor’s failure to perform a timely C-section (when medical standards called for one) causing preventable birth injuries.
  • Damages – In order for victims to recover financial compensation in a personal injury case, they must have suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s conduct. Typically, this means they suffered injuries, which in turn caused them pain and suffering and financial losses caused by medical expenses and lost income. Our legal team works closely with clients to take a full account of their economic and non-economic damages in order to recover the full amount of compensation they deserve.

Proving all elements in a personal injury case can be a complex and challenging matter, which is why they so often demand the attention of lawyers with years of experience in this field. At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, we have the insight, resources, and determination to build strong injury cases, and are readily available to discuss how the elements of a personal injury claim apply to the unique facts of your case. To learn more about your rights and how we can help you, call (800) 462-7160 for a FREE consultation.