If Someone Else Was Negligent Can I Sue Them ?
There is a spectrum of human conduct. Not all conduct fits neatly within a predetermined category. If anyone were to examine each of their day to day activities they would see likely countless acts of carelessness, forgetfulness or inattention. Most of these acts or omissions are harmless. Examples might be things like misplacing one's car keys, forgetting to take one's lunch to work, forgetting to mail the power bill, or not noticing that a garage light had been left on. These are all acts that show, at least momentarily, an inattention to detail, and to some extent, demonstrate a failure to do what one might have intended to do, or have been expected to do. Even though these acts, and countless others, might be considered careless, the consequences are minimal or non-existent. When acts of carelessness, or acts of omission, have serious consequences, and specifically in this context, a personal injury, then the law recognizes the responsibility of the person committing the act of carelessness. Where the law imposes upon another an obligation to act in a certain way [legally called a duty], and that individual does not conform his or her conduct to that expectation [legally called a breach] and that failure causes personal injury to another, our civil justice system recognizes a claim and the injured person can sue for money damages.
Money damages include things like economic damages -which would include reimbursement for medical expenses, lost wages and similar monetary losses- and non-economic damages -things such as compensation for emotional and physical suffering, discomfort and aggravation.
Common examples of negligence-based claims would include:
- Where an individual violates a rule of the road, or otherwise operates a motor vehicle in a careless or heedless fashion, causing an accident that injures another
- Where an individual in possession of real property permits a dangerous condition that is not readily apparent to those invited to that property, and that condition causes injury to another
- Acts of professional negligence whereby an individual fails to adhere to the standards for their profession, causing injury to another
No matter what the factual circumstances giving rise to a claim for negligence any successful action must have common elements:
There must be an obligation to act in a specific way and a failure to do so, and that failure to act must cause legally cognizable injuries to another.
Notice that all of those elements must occur. To sustain a viable negligence claim an individual must sustain an objectively verifiable physical injury. In appropriate circumstances, an objectively verifiable physical injury may be an injury of an emotional or psychological nature. If there is to be a negligence case, there must always be an injury that results from the negligent action- or there is no case.
Over the decades I've heard some truly interesting stories. Things like:
- I was walking down the street and a light post fell over and almost hit me.
- I was almost attacked by a vicious Rottweiler.
- I was walking across the street and a car almost hit me.
We can all imagine omissions and acts of carelessness the precipitated all of those events. The entity responsible for maintaining the light pole failed to inspect and repair the light, thereby failing to keep it in proper condition. The owner of a vicious dog failed to properly control it and protect others. The driver of the vehicle failed to pay proper attention and almost hit a pedestrian. What is missing from each of these examples is an injury caused by the carelessness. These events are not called negligence cases, but rather fortune, fate, karma or just plain old-fashioned good luck. What is also missing in these scenarios is a victim. No one has been injured. You cannot have a personal injury case based on negligence, unless you in fact have a personal injury victim that sustained injury by that act.
-This Article was updated by Eric Kirk on 11/27/20.