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What Are the Elements of a Negligence Claim?

Posted in Personal injury on November 21, 2019

If you recently suffered serious injuries in an accident in West Virginia, you may wonder if you have grounds for a claim. While filing a lawsuit against a person or entity for your injuries may seem like a hassle, the results can be well worth the effort – especially if you hire a personal injury lawyer to handle the claims process for you.

A successful negligence claim could lead to compensation for your past and future losses, giving you the financial stability you need for peace of mind while you heal. Your attorney can help you meet the burden of proof in a negligence claim in West Virginia, which involves four main elements.

The Defendant’s Duty of Care to the Plaintiff

As the injured party or plaintiff, you or your lawyer will need to prove that the at-fault party (defendant) owed you a legal duty of care at the time of the accident. In a medical malpractice claim, for example, a doctor would owe you strict duties of care as a patient. It will be up to your side of the case to prove that a special relationship between you and the defendant existed at the time of your injuries and that the defendant owed you a duty to exercise reasonable care because of this relationship.

Different defendants will owe different duties of care depending on the circumstances. A driver owes a duty of care to reasonably prevent car accidents, for example. An employer has a duty to maintain a safe workplace. A property owner must inspect for and repair dangerous property defects. Product manufacturers must ensure the reasonable safety of their products. The defendant’s duties of care to you in your case will depend on the circumstances of the accident. A lawyer can help you understand and prove duties of care.

The Defendant’s Breach of Duty of Care

The second element in a negligence claim is a breach of duty of care. A breach of duty can refer to any act, failure to act, misconduct, wrongdoing, carelessness or intentional tort that goes against the defendant’s duties of care to the plaintiff. It is a breach of a driver’s duty, for example, to drive under the influence of alcohol. A breach could be negligent or intentional. Proving that a breach of duty occurred by the defendant may take assistance from an experienced attorney. Proof of a breach could come in the form of statements from eyewitnesses, testimony from subject-matter experts, video surveillance footage, photographs and other forms of evidence.

The Plaintiff’s Compensable Damages

To have grounds for a negligence claim, you must have suffered real, specific and compensable damages. It is not enough to have proof of someone else’s negligence or intent to harm. Without damages suffered, you will not have a reason to bring a claim. Compensable damages in West Virginia can refer to both economic and non-economic injuries.

  • Medical expenses
  • Past and future pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish or trauma
  • Property damages
  • Legal fees and court costs
  • Lost wages
  • Lost future earning capacity
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Punitive damages
  • Wrongful death damages

To be eligible for a compensatory award, your accident lawyer will need to provide proof that you incurred actual damages from the incident or act of negligence in question. Proof may come in the form of hospital bills, receipts, bank statements, paystubs, hired experts, and testimony from friends and family.

Causal Link Between Breach of Duty and the Victim’s Damages

The final element necessary for a negligence claim is causation. Your attorney must show through a preponderance of evidence that it was the defendant’s breach of duty of care that caused or at least contributed to the damages you are claiming. If an unrelated factor caused your damages, the defendant may not be liable. The defendant’s negligent or malicious act in question must be the reason you suffered your losses. With these four elements, you can bring a personal injury claim against a negligent party in West Virginia.