You want to file a personal injury claim after an accident, but you’ve learned you need to prove ‘negligence.’ Now you’re wondering what the legal definition of negligence is, and how can you prove it.

Continue reading to learn how the courts determine negligence in a personal injury case.

What Is the Legal Definition of Negligence in a Personal Injury Case?

Proving negligence is necessary for most lawsuits revolving around accidents of injuries. The legal definition of negligence is proved using four elements, which are discussed below.

The Four Elements of Negligence Claims

The four elements of negligence claims are duty, breach, causation, and damages. All these elements must be proved to win your case.

It can be tricky figuring out exactly how to prove negligence. For this reason, it’s highly recommended you work with Lakeland personal injury laywer.

Element 1: Duty

The first step in proving negligence is to confirm the defendant had a legal obligation for “duty of care.” What this essentially means is you need to prove you had a reasonable expectation for the defendant not to harm you.

There are two ways this can usually be proved. In some circumstances, the relationship between you and the defendant will be enough. In other circumstances, the situation in which the injury occurred may prove it.

Certain relationships allow for an expectation that harm will not occur. For example, in the relationship between a doctor and a patient. Or, between a child and their parent or caregiver.

If someone is operating a vehicle, you have a reasonable expectation they won’t harm you by acting irresponsibly. This includes both if you’re a passenger or a pedestrian.

When Might Someone Not Have a Legal Obligation for “Duty of Care?”

There are a few circumstances where a person may not have a legal obligation for “duty of care.” If you can’t prove this obligation, your claim can’t go further because the defendant can’t be proven negligent.

If you were on someone’s property without their permission and became injured, that person might not have a legal obligation to your safety. Prime examples include if you were breaking into someone’s home or entering the premises after being told not to.

Another example might be if you were acting unreasonable or doing something illegal. If you were intoxicated and walked in front of a car, for example, you might not be able to prove “duty of care.”

Element 2: Breach

Once a legal obligation for “duty of care” is proved, the courts will determine whether that obligation was breached. A breach of care is based on the defendant doing something an average person would know not to do.

If someone is texting while driving, this is considered a breach of care. Why? An average person who has a license should know it’s illegal and unsafe to text while driving.

If a daycare worker were to leave a toddler unattended for a long time, this is a breach of care. Why? A daycare worker should know they can’t leave toddlers alone because they’re unable to care for themselves.

When Might Someone Have Not Breached Their Obligation of Care?

Even if someone has a legal duty of care to you, there are circumstances where the courts will determine it wasn’t breached.

If you went against your doctor’s orders, for example, they can’t be held responsible for any injuries you sustained. Or, if a daycare worker was actively watching your child, but that child fell (as children do), you may not be able to hold them responsible.

Element 3: Causation

You’ve established a breach of care occurred. Now it’s time to prove the defendant’s negligence directly caused the accident or injury you’re filing a lawsuit for. This is the part that can prove to be the trickiest.

If you were in a car accident where you weren’t at fault, you’d need to prove any injuries happened during the impact. If you went directly to the emergency room with a broken leg, the medical paperwork would confirm this.

But what if you didn’t go directly to the emergency room?

Let’s say you had whiplash. It’s common for symptoms to not appear for a few hours to a few days later. This can be more difficult to prove because your medical paperwork will show you didn’t seek immediate medical attention.

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to prove. But, you’d need additional documentation confirming the car accident was the cause of your injuries. The reason behind this is that the courts need to ensure you aren’t seeking compensation for unrelated injuries.

Element 4: Damages

If you’ve successfully proven all other elements, the courts will need to determine damages. Then, the court will determine how you can be repaid for the negligence of the defendant. Most often, this is in the form of monetary compensation.

You need proof of the monetary compensation you ask for. You should include receipts or estimates for property damages, as well as medical bills that resulted from the accident. These will help the courts to approve or adjust your claim request.

Do You Still Have Questions About the Legal Definition of Negligence?


Negligence can be difficult to prove since it requires the plaintiff to confirm all four elements mentioned above. If possible, it’s recommended you work with a personal accident attorney who can help you navigate these burdens of proof.

Do you have more questions about the legal definition of negligence?

Check out our other blog posts. You’ll find a wealth of information on related topics.