Negligence is defined as the failure to exercise the degree of care that an ordinary, reasonable, cautious, and prudent person or corporation would have exercised under the same conditions. It is an unreasonable mistake that can occur even though the mistake was unintentional or made with good intentions in mind.
Reasonableness is a community standard, not an individual one. It’s what the larger community considers to have been reasonable under all of the circumstances involved.
Negligence is the legal concept that is the basis for most types of personal injury claims in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is the code of conduct we expect from individuals and business entities. We expect reasonable and safe behavior in our dealings with other people and businesses.
Unreasonable behavior resulting in injury is not acceptable in our society and can lead to civil liability for the damages and injuries caused by that behavior.
Four elements of negligence
In Massachusetts, negligence law consists of four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. The person claiming negligence must prove each of these four elements to make his or her case, using a preponderance of evidence.
Negligence can only be established when the defendant owes the plaintiff a legal duty to use reasonable care. Legal duty exists if it there is a reasonable foreseeability that some act or omission would cause some type of knowable harm.
The breach of a legal duty is the act or omission that causes the harm and is a deviation from reasonable care. The amount of care that a prudent person would exercise varies with the circumstances.
A negligent act by itself is not enough to establish legal negligence unless the act causes some damages. The plaintiff must establish a causal link between the negligent conduct and some injury.
Damages are monetary compensation for a victim’s injuries and losses. Monetary damages are awarded by a judge or jury if and only if there has been a finding of liability. The guiding principle for calculating damages is what is fair and reasonable for the victim’s losses.
Contributory negligence is a term used to describe a party’s behavior that puts themselves at unreasonable risk. A driver who is speeding or a pedestrian crossing the street while the signal flashes “Don’t Walk” are possible examples if an accident happens.
Comparative negligence is a term that describes when both parties involved share fault for an accident. For example, the speeding driver put himself and others at risk. The pedestrian also put himself at risk by crossing the street at the wrong time. If the pedestrian is struck by the driver and decides to sue the driver for his injuries, the court would have to compare the amount of fault the pedestrian had as well as the fault of the driver.
Modified comparative negligence is the concept that a party deemed more at fault for an accident cannot sue for damages against a party who is less at fault. In the example above, the speeding driver may have been found to be 75 percent at fault for the accident and therefore would not be able to sue the pedestrian who was 25 percent at fault.
On the other hand, the pedestrian could sue the driver for 75 percent of the damages which might include medical bills, etc. If the bills came to $10,000, the pedestrian could sue for the full amount but the court would reduce it by the appropriate percent.
If you believe you have been injured through the negligence of someone, you may want to hire an attorney to ensure the best possible outcome.