What Is Negligence in a Virginia Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Most people never think that they will be involved in a lawsuit. But if you suffer an accident that results in serious injuries, and if you believe that the accident was caused by another person’s irresponsible actions, filing a Virginia personal injury lawsuit may be the only way to recover compensation for your damages.

If you decide to pursue legal action – a decision which should be made only after consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney – you will need to prove negligence.

Negligence Is One of Four Elements in a Personal Injury Claim

Four elements must be established in a personal injury claim in order to recover damages from the defendant, or the party against whom the lawsuit has been filed.  Those elements are:

  • Duty of care
    The first element that you, the plaintiff, would need to establish would be whether there was a relationship between you and the defendant, and the defendant owed you a duty of care based on this relationship. In many cases, a duty of care is implied. For example, a driver has a duty of care to all other drivers on the road to operate his or her vehicle responsibly.
  • Negligence
    Negligence is a breach of the duty of care described above. In this sense, proving negligence is at the heart of all successful personal injury lawsuits. Establishing negligence can make or break your claim. The Legal Information Institute of Cornell University Law School defines negligence as the “failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” Essentially, negligence is the act of doing something (or failing to act) unreasonably or irresponsibly.
  • Causation
    While proving the existence of a duty of care and negligence are two important parts of a personal injury claim, they alone are not enough. You must further prove that your injuries would not have resulted but for the negligent actions of the defendant, or causation.
  • Damages
    Finally, as a plaintiff, you must prove that you have suffered actual damages as a result of the accident. These damages may be economic or non-economic in nature. They often include things such as medical bills, lost wages, rehabilitation costs, pain and suffering.

Negligence in Different Types of Personal Injury Cases

No two accidents and injuries are the same. Along those same lines, each act of negligence is vastly different. Consider the examples of negligence in the following types of personal injury cases:

  • Car accidents
    A drunk driver speeds through an intersection, hitting a pedestrian and leaving the pedestrian paralyzed. In this case, the acts of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, failing to yield and speeding are all independent acts of negligence which led to the car accident.
  • Slip and falls
    A shopper pulls into the parking lot of the shopper’s favorite retail store, parks the car and begins walking to the store doors. Suddenly, the shopper slips on a large patch of ice and suffers a hip fracture. The shopper alleges that the store should be liable for the slip and fall based on its negligent action of failing to ensure the property was maintained in a safe condition, and that it would have been reasonable for the store to check for ice and remedy the problem in the parking lot.
  • Dog bites
    The owner of a dog that has bitten a person in the past decides to go for a walk and brings the dog. The dog is not on a leash. A child approaches the dog, and the dog bites the child, leaving the child terribly scarred. Because the dog owner knew of the vicious nature of the dog, the dog should have been properly restrained. (A lawsuit could also possibly be brought on the basis of negligence per se if a city ordinance required dogs to be kept on leashes in public areas.)
  • Defective products
    A consumer purchases a large, glass mug intended for hot beverages. Upon pouring boiling water into the glass to make tea, the glass breaks from thermal stress, leaving the consumer with burn injuries and cuts on the hands. The consumer could file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the glass mug, claiming that the manufacturer acted negligently by failing to manufacturer a safe product and instead manufactured a product with a defect.

How an Attorney Can Help to Establish Negligence

The examples above are all straightforward, with the negligent acts being easy to pinpoint and prove. However, not all acts of negligence in personal injury cases are as obvious as the examples above.

When it comes to gathering evidence and establishing negligence in a personal injury claim, the assistance of an experienced attorney can be invaluable. An attorney should have the resources to fully investigate an accident and hire experts to provide critical information about how an accident occurred. An attorney can also request copies of police, safety, and inspection reports, interview witnesses, review medical records, analyze photos from an accident scene and more.

At Marks & Harrison, we have the skills and experience you are looking for after you have suffered an injury due to another’s negligence. To learn more about our personal injury and accident attorneys, or to schedule a free case consultation, please contact our offices today. We will work hard to protect your rights and interests.

Joel R. McClellan is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the Valparaiso University School of Law who has represented hundreds of personal injury victims throughout Virginia as an attorney with Marks & Harrison. Joel is licensed to practice in Virginia, the District of Columbia and the U.S. District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia. He has also chaired the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association's Young Trial Lawyers section and served on the Legal Aid Justice Center's Advisory Council and on the Executive Committee of the Richmond Bar Association's Young Lawyers section.