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What Does “Negligence” Mean and When Can You Sue for Negligence?

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

You may have seen or heard California personal injury lawyers use the word “negligent” to describe someone’s actions or the circumstances of claim. What is negligence, exactly, and when can you sue for it?

What is Negligence?

When California lawyers use the word negligence, they are describing the intent behind conduct that gave rise to an injury. Under California law, people can act with different kinds of intent when they cause personal injury to others. A person can act purposefully, recklessly, knowingly, or negligently.

Generally, when someone acts purposefully to cause harm to another, their actions result in the strictest legal penalties. The second most severe category of penalties are levied when a person acts recklessly, which means that they knew there was a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to another as a result of the person’s actions, but the person acted anyways. The third most severe category of penalties are applied to situations where the person acted knowingly, meaning they knew that harm could result to another because of their actions and acted anyways. Acting purposefully, recklessly, or knowingly requires that a person act with wrongful intent.

Negligent conduct, however, does not require that a person act with wrongful intent. Rather, negligent conduct encompasses behavior where an individual fails to take the proper care when they do something, and as a result, someone else is injured.

How Do You Prove Negligence?

Proving negligence in California requires showing that four elements are met under California law: duty, breach, causation, and damages.

Duty refers to a person’s obligation to protect another person against the unreasonable risk of injury. Generally, a person owes a duty of care to all foreseeable persons who may foreseeably be injured by their actions or failure to act as a reasonable person under the circumstances.

Breach refers to a breach of this duty. Generally, breach of duty occurs when a person departs from the required standard of care under the circumstances. This can include situations where a person does not act as a reasonable person would or if they violate a statute.

Causation requires showing that a person’s breach was the factual cause of their injury. This is sometimes referred to as “but-for” causation: but for the person’s actions, the injury would not have occurred. To prove causation, you must also prove that the person’s breach was also the “proximate cause” of the injury. Proximate cause simply means that the kind of harm that resulted was the foreseeable result of the person’s actions, and that the resulting harm was within the risk created by the person’s conduct.

Damages require proving that actual harm resulted because of a person’s actions. Generally, actual harm refers to personal injury or property damage, and includes things like medical bills, cost of repairs, and in some circumstances punitive damages.

Negligently Injured?

If you have been injured in California as the result of someone else’s negligent actions, you deserve compensation. Whether a negligent act resulted in medical bills, your inability to work, or damage to your property, the experienced California personal injury attorneys at J&Y Law can help make you as whole again as possible. Contact us today to learn more about your options.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.