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Negligence Under California Law

The vast majority of California personal injury lawsuits are initiated after a person (the “plaintiff”) is injured by the negligent behavior of one or more individuals or entities (the “defendant(s)”). The plaintiff brings the lawsuit against the defendant(s) and the plaintiff has the legal duty to prove his or her case against the defendant(s) by a “preponderance of the evidence” – meaning evidence that suggests the defendant(s) are legally responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

Factual Propositions to Establish Negligence Under California Law

The California civil jury instructions set out three factual propositions that the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence before a defendant will be found “negligent” and legally responsible for the losses and injuries of the plaintiff. These three propositions include:

  • The defendant acted negligently under the circumstances. Negligence (or carelessness) involves the breach of a legal “duty” to act in a particular way. In the context of a personal injury case, the “duty” most often applicable is the duty to act in a reasonable and careful manner at all times. If the defendant breaches this duty by acting carelessly or unreasonably under the circumstances, then the defendant can be said to have acted negligently. Reasonableness is determined by looking at what an objective, hypothetical individual similarly situated as the defendant would have done under the same or similar circumstances. If the defendant does not act in the manner this objective and hypothetical individual would have acted, the defendant is determined to have acted negligently.
    • For example, suppose that a plaintiff is seriously injured when a businessman pushes the plaintiff out of his or her way because he is late for a meeting. The plaintiff falls down a flight of stairs as a result. A court would examine whether an objective, hypothetical and reasonable businessman would have pushed someone out of his way because he was attempting to get to a meeting. Because an objective businessman would not have done this, the businessman in this example violated the “duty” to act reasonably and carefully and can be described as having acted negligently.
  • The defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injury. There must be a causal connection between the negligent behavior of the defendant(s) and the plaintiff’s injury. In most cases, courts will employ a “but for” test: Would the plaintiff have suffered his or her injuries “but for” the defendant’s negligent actions? If the plaintiff would have been injured and suffered the same loss he or she did in fact suffer regardless of the defendant’s behavior, then there will be no compensation for the plaintiff. If the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the defendant’s negligence, or if the defendant’s negligence contributed to the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries, then compensation may be available.
  • The plaintiff did in fact suffer an injury or injuries that can be compensated with a monetary damages award. If the plaintiff did not suffer any injury, there is no purpose behind filing a lawsuit. Like the other factual propositions to be proven, the plaintiff has the burden of proving not only that he or she did in fact suffer an injury but the extent of that injury and the amount of compensation necessary to “make the plaintiff whole” again.

How a California Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help

A personal injury attorney can help evaluate the evidence and testimony available in your case to see if you have sufficient evidentiary support for each of these propositions. This can assist you in determining whether you ought to file a personal injury lawsuit.

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