Although Intentional Acts, like murder or assault, or Strict Liability, like a Products Liability claims against makers and sellers of Products, can be the basis for Legal Liability when someone suffers a Personal Injury, the most common basis for a Personal Injury claim in Pennsylvania is Negligence.
Negligence, at its core, is carelessness that results in unnecessary injury. The personal who was Negligent/Careless is held legal responsible to compensate the victim of his/her carelessness for any injuries and harm that was suffered. It’s a rule of fairness and, fortunately, most Negligent people and/or businesses have Insurance (Car Insurance, Property Insurance, Liability Insurance or Malpractice Insurance) to pay to defend the Negligence claim and to pay for the harm.
What is Negligence?
Negligence is a legal concept which has four elements: (1) Duty; (2) Violation of Duty; (3) Causation; and (4) Damages.
The first element of Negligence is Duty, which is an obligation to exercise reasonable care.
We all have a legal Duty to exercise reasonable care so as not to cause unnecessary injury. When we drive a car, or maintain our properties we have a responsibility to abide by recognize safety rules and not to injure other people.
Stores or businesses open to the public have special duties to inspect their premises and make them reasonably safe for customers and visitors.
Doctors have a Duty to follow the Standard of Care, to exercise the knowledge and skill of other doctors in the same specialty.
Violation of Duty
The second element of Negligence is Violation of Duty.
In a car accident case it could be running a red light, or driving too fast in traffic and rear-ending someone or failing to yield the right-of-way and striking a pedestrian.
In a property case it could be failing to shovel snow, or constructing stairs without a proper railing.
In a Medical Malpractice case it could be a surgeon leaving a surgical tool inside someone or an ER doctor failing to notice and treat clear symptoms of a stroke.
All of these actions or inactions are a Violation of a Duty to act reasonably and carefully.
In order to have a valid Negligence claim, the Violation of the Duty must be a Factual Cause of injuries and damages. If the carelessness could have but did not result in harm, there is no legal claim for Negligence.
Similarly, if the harm existed before the accident or occurred independently, then there is no legal liability.
Nevertheless, the Negligence need not be the sole cause of the harm. Instead, it can combine with other causes or pre-existing injuries and can still be a Factual Cause of the harm. The Negligence just needs to be a real factor with some significance in causing the harm.
For example, if someone with a pre-existing neck injury is rear-ended and his/or injuries are not worsened by the collision, there is no Causation. But, if the pre-existing injuries are aggravated, or made worse by the collision, then there is Causation.
The last element of Negligence is Damages. If a Violation of a Duty Causes no Damages then there is no case. Damages consist of Economic and Non-economic consequences of an injury.
Economic Damages are things that can been easily valued in money, like Medical Bills, Lost Wages and Out-of-Pocket Expenses.
Non-economic Damages are things like Physical and Emotional Pain and Suffering, Disability, Scarring and Disfigurement and Embarrassment, which are real harm, but are difficult to measure in money.
A victim of Negligence is entitled to be fully and fairly compensated for all Economic and Non-Economic Damages. The law provides that the money compensation is to equal the harm. The Negligent defendant must pay to make up for all of the harm and loss, no more and no less than what is fair to compensate for the harm.
Tim Rayne is a Partner in the Chester County Law Firm MacElree Harvey. For over 25 years, Tim has been helping injured accident victims understand their legal rights and receive fair treatment from insurance companies. Contact Tim at 610-840-0124 or [email protected] or check out his website at www.timraynelaw.com.