What Do I have to Prove to Bring a Negligence Lawsuit?

Most people have heard of the term negligence used in the legal system. Each year, numerous lawsuits are brought alleging negligence as one of the causes of action. But what does it actually mean? What has to be proven to bring a negligence lawsuit?

Under the Pennsylvania Law, there are generally four elements that must be proven to bring a negligence lawsuit against an individual.

First, you must prove that the individual you are suing owed a duty to you. For example, a storeowner has a duty to its customer, a doctor has a duty to his/her patient, etc. There are many situations where an individual owes a duty to another individual.

Second, you must prove that the individual breached the duty that was owed to you. Using a storeowner as an example, the storeowner owes a duty to its customers. The storeowner has a duty to keep the store safe for its customers. If you are bringing suit against the storeowner, you must prove the storeowner breached his/her duty and did not keep the store safe.

To illustrate, suppose you walk into a grocery store. The grocery store has a duty to keep its store safe for you (its customer), which includes keeping the floor clear of debris, making sure there are no wet floors, etc. If you, as a customer, walk in and slip on a wet floor, the grocery store has breached its duty to keep the store safe for its customers.

Third, you must prove causation. You must prove that there is a causal connection between the breach of duty and your injuries. Using the above grocery store example, say you walk in and slip on a wet floor and end up breaking your leg. To prove negligence, you must prove that the grocery store’s failure to mop its floor caused your broken leg.

Fourth, you must prove you have actual damages. Using the same grocery store example, say you fall but have no actual damages. You will not be able to prove negligence because you don’t have actual damages. Damages can include anything from lost wages, medical bills, etc. However, if you don’t have any, then you cannot bring a suit to recover anything.

These are the four basic elements to prove negligence. However, it is important to remember that there are different types of negligence, each with their own elements.

There are also many exceptions and loopholes when trying to prove negligence. For example, using the above grocery store scenario, say you walk into the store, fall and break your leg because of a wet floor. At first glance, it seems you have proven negligence because: (1) the grocery store had a duty to keep its store safe, (2) the grocery store breached its duty, (3) the breach of duty resulted in your broken leg and (4) you have actual damages. However, if the grocery store didn’t KNOW about the wet floor, they may not be liable for your injuries. Negligence can be tricky to prove in some situations. Just because it seems like negligence at first glance doesn’t mean it actually is.