Negligence involves the act of being careless. Legally, it is defined as the failure to use the same level of care that any ordinary person would reasonably use in the same situation in order to prevent foreseeable injury or harm to another.
Personal injury claims are commonly based on negligence, but the mere failure to take proper care in doing something is not always actionable, even if injuries result.
The Maryland personal injury lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras discuss what accident victims need to prove negligence and how having an attorney by your side can help.
Steps to Prove Negligence in a Maryland Personal Injury Claim
There are a number of progressive steps your attorney will need to take in order to prove negligence in a personal injury claim. First, the defendant must have owed a duty of care to prevent persons from being injured or harmed.
Once a legal duty of care is established, your Baltimore personal injury attorney must prove that the defendant failed to act reasonably and that their actions or inactions were the direct and proximate cause of any injuries sustained.
- A duty of care
- Breach of that duty
- Causal link to injuries
Proving a proximate cause can be challenging. Your attorney must demonstrate that your personal injuries were caused solely by the defendant’s negligent acts or omissions.
Proof that this causal link exists must be clear and convincing. Finally, the defendant’s conduct must have resulted in actual physical injury or harm to your reputation, dignity, character, feelings, rights, property, or interests.
Different Types of Negligence and Proof in Maryland
The fact that an injury was sustained does not automatically guarantee a recovery. There are different levels of negligence that require different measures of proof.
Negligence Per Se
In some cases, the defendant’s violation of a statute establishes a legal duty and a breach all at once. For example, drivers owe a duty of care to keep others safe on the road. If a truck runs a red light and injures someone, the personal injury claim is considered negligence per se.
A woman wearing high heels through a closed construction site may have some responsibility for causing her own injury. Under Maryland comparative negligence law, even if a plaintiff is partially at fault for their own injury, they may still succeed in a personal injury lawsuit. The damage award would be reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff’s liability.
Some states, including Maryland, follow a strict contributory negligence law that does not allow recovery if the claimant contributed to the accident in any way.
Under the law, an injured party cannot argue that the defendant bears sole responsibility for an accident, even if the defendant was 99% responsible. Be prepared for the defendant to raise this defense immediately.
You are walking down the street when suddenly, a dog lunges toward you and manages to bite your leg, leaving you with a severe injury. Vicarious liability holds the dog’s owner responsible even though they themselves did not cause the injuries.
The injured party is allowed to sue for damages if they can prove that an owner, employer, or other entity is liable for the actions of others under their supervision.
Supermarkets or other similar business owners are responsible for the actions of their employees unless the behavior was intentionally malicious or so reckless that a defendant cannot be reasonably held liable.
Driving down a steep hill, your brakes suddenly give out, and you crash. Later, you find out that the manufacturer knew the brakes were faulty and sold the cars anyway. Strict liability assumes that manufacturers or suppliers were aware of the defect and are then responsible for any damages that result.
Most slip and fall cases occur on the premises of another. As a customer, you are owed a higher duty of care because the defendant is enticing you onto their premises to conduct business.
It may not always be simple to prove negligence in these personal injury claims because the defendant must be shown to be aware of the dangers on their premises with some degree of foreseeability.
Negligence often occurs due to carelessness, mistakes, inattentiveness, distraction, or failure to follow rules or procedures. Under the law, a negligent person is liable for any resulting injury.
The failure to use reasonable care that results in injury or harm is the basic foundation of any personal injury claim based on negligence.
Willful disregard for the safety of others may rise to the level of reckless negligence, where a defendant’s risky actions would almost certainly result in an injury.
It applies, for example, to speeding cars or drunk drivers. Actions that show a deliberate and reckless disregard for others are actionable.
Gross negligence applies to actions that blatantly disregard standards of care to prevent harm and create obvious and clear foreseeable injury to others.
For example, medical malpractice can involve prescribing the wrong medication to a patient, but the malpractice rises to the level of gross negligence if an instrument is left inside a patient’s body after an operation.
Personal injury caused by a doctor is covered under the same professional standard of duty and care that other similarly trained doctors would provide to others.
Gross negligence includes conduct that is so clearly and horribly wrong that even a nonprofessional, untrained person could avoid it.
Factors Affecting a Maryland Accident Victim’s Ability to Prove Negligence
Failure to use proper care that results in injury is not automatically deemed to be a winnable case. Even if the actions themselves were negligent, all four steps – duty, breach, causation, and damages – must be established by your Queen Anne’s County personal injury lawyer in order to be successful in proving negligence in your personal injury lawsuit.
Standard of Care
Without a legal duty of care, the negligence claim cannot move forward. There are certain recognized standards of care, as well as others, only a skilled Caroline County personal injury lawyer can prove.
Reasonable and ordinary people owe a duty of care to others. They are required to monitor their conduct to ensure their behavior does not cause injury or harm to others.
Just like drivers, pedestrians are required to obey traffic laws. If someone crosses the street against traffic, they may put others at risk who suddenly have to swerve to avoid hitting them.
In negligence cases, a homeowner, like the general public, is held to the standard of care of a reasonable and ordinary person and is required to exercise enough care to prevent an injury. On a snowy day, is it sufficient to use rock salt rather than shoveling the driveway?
Is an unknown pedestrian owed the same degree of care as a known guest walking toward your home?
Business owners owe a higher duty of care because they are inviting consumers onto their premises for the purposes of conducting business.
Their duty of care requires more vigilance in protecting others from injury or harm. If a customer is directed to an employee storeroom in the back to use their only restroom, does the business have a duty of care to unauthorized persons in areas marked employees only?
Is it reasonable to foresee a patron would need a restroom?
Professionals, including, for example, doctors, pharmacists, or electricians, are held to a standard of care equal to that of professionals with the same expertise in the same situations.
What would another doctor with similar training do in the exact same situation? What kind of treatment would a reasonable pharmacist have prescribed or recommended? Would another trained electrician leave faulty wires exposed that could conceivably cause injury to others?
Breach of Duty of Care
Negligence occurs when someone fails to use the same level of care and caution that any reasonable person would use in similar circumstances.
The test for negligence considers whether a reasonable person in the position of the defendant would be able to foresee that their action or inaction could cause damage to another person.
Knowing this, would a reasonable defendant take steps to avoid the possibility of harm to others? If yes, negligence has been proven.
Foreseeability and Knowledge
There is another layer to proving a defendant’s acts either breached a legal duty of care or were the direct cause of a plaintiff’s injuries.
In making those legal determinations, a defendant must reasonably be able to foresee the conduct of others.
Moreover, they must determine the level of risk in a particular situation and be able to foresee whether their own actions or inactions could result in injury or harm to another person.
If steps are crumbling over time, a defendant should foresee they must be fixed.
In terms of knowledge, a plaintiff cannot make a recovery if the defendant was unaware that a problem existed. Reasonable foreseeability becomes an issue here.
A defendant will generally be held liable if they:
- could foresee the possibility that their conduct would cause injury or harm to another
- could reasonably foresee that an accident could occur on their premises
- could reasonably foresee the conduct of another person
- knew about a dangerous situation but did not take reasonable steps to remedy it
- knew, or should have known, of a hazardous situation prior to an injury
- had ample time between notice and subsequent injury to remedy the situation
There must be a direct causal link between a defendant’s negligence and a plaintiff’s subsequent injuries. There is no recovery if a defendant’s actions or inaction did not somehow cause the injury.
Proximate cause has to be determined by law to be the primary cause of the injury. In other words, “but for” the defendant’s negligence, the plaintiff’s injuries would not have occurred.
Establishing proximate cause also means proving the plaintiff’s injury was reasonably foreseeable by any other defendant in the same situation.
There are cases where negligence is apparent, but no physical injury or harm exists. If you were in a near collision with another vehicle, your fear at that moment may not rise to the level of compensable damages.
Ultimately, a defendant’s negligent conduct must have resulted in actual physical injury or harm to your reputation, dignity, character, rights, property, or interests.
Contact a Maryland Personal Injury Attorney to Help You Prove Your Case
When bringing a personal injury claim in Maryland, your attorney must consider whether you, as the plaintiff in the case, contributed to the injury in any way.
If you were arguably distracted, inattentive, careless, or not following rules or procedures, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to pursue a personal injury claim based on negligence.
Maryland uses a contributory negligence standard of proof, which does not allow a plaintiff to recover damages if they are even 1% responsible for their own injury.
Under such strict conditions, only an experienced Maryland and Wicomico County personal injury lawyer will understand how to bring a claim proving the defendant’s negligent conduct was the sole cause of the subsequent injury or harm.
If you or a loved one was injured, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer at Rice, Murtha & Psoras who can help navigate a successful negligence claim on your behalf.
Proving negligence is not always a straightforward process. In Maryland, it is critical to get the right representation. Call (410) 694-7291 for a free consultation today.