Negligence in Personal Injury Lawsuits Explained


If you’re filing a personal injury lawsuit, it’s typically because you have suffered an injury and believe it to be due to someone else’s negligence. However, this would suggest we understand what negligence means as a legal concept and how it applies to the personal injury claim process. Put simply, negligence is the entire reason for a personal injury case.

What Does Negligence Mean?

Legally, negligence falls under the umbrella of tort law. A tort is a behavior, or lack thereof, that results in an injury or harm to someone else in a personal injury case. Negligence refers to a person’s failure to behave or act with a level of care that any reasonable person might. This can apply to actions that someone takes or fails to take.

Negligence refers to a person’s failure to behave or act with a level of care that any reasonable person might.

Failure to take action can also be known as the omission of action, though this requires proof of the defendant’s duty to act, such as an emergency services technician responding to a call while on shift. Five elements must be proven to claim negligence successfully.

The Five Elements of Negligence

Duty of Care

Duty refers to the duty of care or someone’s responsibility to take reasonable care of someone else. Using the example of a car accident, there is a duty of care in following traffic laws to keep others safe. For example, suppose a driver is texting and driving, which leads them to miss a red light. This causes them to hit you, which may be seen as breaching their duty of care.


Breach refers to the action that violated that duty of care or duty to act. This would be the behavior or action that disregarded the general well-being or safety of others. Referring back to the car accident example, texting and driving and / or running a red light would constitute a breach of a driver’s duty to operate a vehicle in a way that keeps others safe.


Two parts must be proven for cause – cause in fact and proximate cause. Cause in fact requires proof that the defendant’s actions directly caused the accident. In our example, the defendant was texting and driving, running a red light, and hitting someone going through the intersection. In this case, you would not have been injured if not for the car running the light because of distracted driving.

Proximate cause refers to the reasonable ability to predict the cause of injury. If the defendant is shown to have been texting and driving at the time of the crash, it is well established that this can lead to an accident and injuries.


Finally, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty caused harm. Typically, ‘harm’ should be a significant injury that disrupts your life. If you were hit by the defendant’s car and suffered broken bones and internal injury that kept you hospitalized, that will rise to the level of showing harm. You should consult with a personal injury attorney to discuss whether your sustained injuries are enough to qualify as harm done.

To establish a record of harm, your attorney may ask you to keep a file of medical records. This may include results from any initial evaluations, visits to specialists, or follow-up appointments from your injuries.

What Kinds of Negligence Are There?

When you are working with a personal injury lawyer to build any type of personal injury case and believe you have what you need to prove negligence, other components may come into play.

Gross Negligence

Gross negligence demonstrates an extreme deviation from the expected standard of care, almost to the point of intent to cause harm. Gross negligence may be seen as more harmful than standard negligence because the implication is that the at fault party engaged in behavior void of any consideration for the safety or wellbeing of others. It may, therefore, result in higher damages.

Vicarious Negligence

Vicarious negligence is liability assumed by a party other than the offender. In personal injury, the accusation of vicarious negligence may be made against an employer who fails to take action on the negligence of an employee or even parents or guardians of a minor who knows their child is engaging in unruly or disruptive behavior that results in someone else’s injury.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence may occur if the plaintiff contributed to their own injuries. If the plaintiff is found partly at fault, their damage award is reduced by the amount of their liability. For example, if the defendant made an improper left turn, but the plaintiff was speeding, the plaintiff might be considered 15% responsible for the resulting car accident. Therefore, their damages would be reduced by 15%.

Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence

Pennsylvania observes comparative negligence laws at 50%. This means an injury victim can collect damages if they are less than 50% responsible for the accident. Comparative negligence is a prime example of the importance of honesty with your attorney about the circumstances surrounding and leading up to your injury.

Though the court may determine that you contributed to your behavior, this may not disqualify you from receiving compensation. You should have an in-depth conversation with your attorney so that they can best prepare the argument for your case.

Evidence Needed to Prove Negligence

documenting negligenceProving negligence means you are able to demonstrate the five components of negligence. This may be done with either direct or circumstantial evidence.

Direct Evidence

Direct evidence typically shows a direct link between the person and the accused act, while circumstantial evidence may require more inference. For example, direct evidence might be a recording of the accident through dashcam footage.

Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence may be a picture of the damaged cars after the accident. We don’t see the actual accident, but we can guess that the two vehicles hit each other instead and likely weren’t involved in their own individual accidents. Direct evidence is preferred to circumstantial evidence, but where direct evidence is lacking, per the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, circumstantial may suffice.

Other ways that you might prove negligence with direct evidence may be dashcam footage, witness statements, and / or any other video that may have been captured. The specific needs of each case are different, so any documentation needs should be discussed with your Pittsburgh personal injury attorney so they may assist you in obtaining any needed documentation.

Negligence in Your Personal Injury Case

When you reach out to SMT Legal for a free consultation, our personal injury lawyers will assess your case details to determine if there may be an act of negligence by someone else that caused your injuries. Our team will use this as the basis for pursuing your personal injury claim.

Though some cases may seem straightforward, many caveats and instances with nuance can be much more easily navigated with an experienced personal injury attorney on your side to assess the best path forward. If you need more information about whether you have a valid claim and how to proceed, contact SMT Legal to schedule a free consultation today.

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