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What Does “Negligence” Really Mean?

The term “negligence” is not really understood by the public. In this blog post, Wayne Cohen, a personal injury lawyer in Washington, D.C., will take some time to explain in lay terms what negligence is, and how it applies to legal cases. Keep in mind that the laws in each state are different, so what Mr. Cohen is providing is simply an overview.

Generally, there are four components to a negligence case. They are (a) duty, (b) breach, (c) causation, and (d) harm. Let’s start with duty, and use examples to fully explain the concept. When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car, he or she has a duty to drive safely. When a physician operates on a patient, he or she has a duty to perform in a reasonably prudent manner. When a manufacturer creates a product, that manufacturer must do so in a commercially acceptable manner. Duty can vary depending on an individual’s job or industry, but it exists often.

Once a duty is established, the next step is to look at whether there is a breach. One way to assess the possibility of a breach is to ask yourself if the individual, physician, or manufacturer has done something, or failed to do something, that would be considered “reasonable.” In the context of a medical procedure, ask whether the physician did (or failed to do) something that a reasonably prudent physician would have done.

For now, let’s skip the third component of a negligence case and go directly to the fourth. In order for a plaintiff to successfully prevail in a case of negligence, there must be some harm done to them. Has the victim been injured in a tangible way? A physician accidentally leaves a sponge in a patient after a surgery, but the sponge did not cause an infection. A driver of a car strikes another vehicle in the rear, but the victim walks away without any injuries. In both cases, there may not be harm enough for a negligence case.

The final point to ask is whether the harm was caused by the breach of the duty. In the law, this is known as “causation.” If a victim reports back pain after an accident, but the back pain pre-existed the crash, then there’s no causation because the victim’s back pain was not necessarily a result of the accident. Similarly, if someone gets food poisoning after eating dinner at a restaurant, but the food poisoning was caused by his or her breakfast earlier in the day, then there’s no causation.

Most injury cases involve some claim of negligence. To understand whether there’s a viable claim, ask yourself the following questions:

· Was there a duty involved?
· Was there a breach of the duty?
· Are there damages?
· Were the damages caused by the breach?

Wayne Cohen, lawyer and Managing Partner at Cohen & Cohen, P.C., has over 20 years of experience with negligence and personal injury cases. Contact his law firm for a free case evaluation today if you answered yes to any of the four questions above, as you may have a viable personal injury case.


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