How Do You Determine Auto Accident Negligence?
Law students spend a large portion of the first year of law school learning about all sorts of different torts intentional or otherwise. However, in practice, most cases of personal injury are based on negligence.
Common law negligence has evolved over the centuries to include four elements.
1. Duty – The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed her a duty of care.
2. Breach – The defendant must have breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff.
3. Injury – The plaintiff must have been injured (bodily harm or property damage).
4. Proximate Cause – Defendant’s breach must have caused plaintiff’s injuries directly.
In reality, proving negligence is usually more complicated than that. That is why you need a lawyer, but every negligence claim follows that above pattern. For a car accident let us go through each step. Imagine that Peggy is driving a sedan down the street in Billings, Montana when she is rear-ended by Dan.
1. Duty — Peggy must prove that Dan owed her a duty of care. According to Montana statutes, drivers are prohibited from following too closely than is reasonable. M.C.A. §61-8-329. The statute establishes the duty.
2. Breach – Peggy must prove that Dan breached the duty. She does this by providing evidence of her smashed rear bumper and the police report showing that Dan rear-ended her. The fact that Dan hit Peggy means that he was not following at a reasonable distance.
3. Injury – Peggy must show that she was injured in the accident. She can prove property damage by showing the photographs of the vehicle after the accident. She can quantify those damages into a monetary value by showing receipts from the body shop where she had her vehicle repaired.
In order to prove bodily injury, Peggy will have to provide photographs, medical records, and medical bills for any medical care she received after the accident for injuries she sustained because of the accident.
4. Cause – Peggy must show that Dan’s actions caused her injuries. She must show that the broken bones, bruises, and property damage she suffered were a result of the accident and not something else. Peggy can do this by taking pictures of her vehicle at the accident scene, reporting the accident to the police, and receiving prompt medical treatment.
Those four elements prove Peggy’s prima facia case that Dan was negligent. Dan may argue that Peggy was also negligent and partly at fault for the accident. In Montana, Peggy can still recover damages as long as she was less at fault for the accident than Dan. Her damages may reflect her comparative negligence, but her negligence will not bar her recovery.