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In today’s blog entry, I will answer the question, what is negligence? 

Over the years, many books have been written about negligence. When I was a law student, I spent much of my first year learning about it. But you don’t need that much detail, especially if you hire a lawyer to work on your case. 

So I’ll keep it as simple as I can. I’ll cover the basics of what negligence is and how negligence is determined in a personal injury or accident claim

What Does It Mean To Be Negligent In A Personal Injury Claim?

At its most basic, negligence means responsibility or fault, or to be liable. If a person or business is at fault for your injuries, legally speaking, it probably means they were negligent. You may first run into the concept of negligence when dealing with an insurance company


If you look at your insurance policy, say your auto policy, you might see something such as “bodily injury coverage” “liability coverage” or “personal liability” next to a list of dollar amounts. This is describing the insurance coverage for claims involving negligence. 

If you talk to an insurance adjuster and he or she tells you that they’re handling your liability claim or your bodily injury claim, what they’re talking about is the claim involving negligence, and not property damage, no-fault, or some other type of insurance claim. 

How Do You Determine Someone Was Negligent?

For you to receive money for your injuries in a personal injury claim, somebody has to have been at fault. So in other words, a person or business must have been negligent. 

So what does it mean to be negligent? 

It means to be careless. Unreasonably careless. So what does it mean to be unreasonably careless? 

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. 

It’s not always easy to figure out if somebody has been unreasonably careless and usually it’s left up to a jury to decide whether somebody was negligent. 

What Is A Common Example Of Negligence?

Some things are almost always automatically considered negligent, or in the law, “presumed” negligent. 

Direct violations of law are typically automatically considered negligence. Also, things like rear-ending the car in front of you. In court, evidence that somebody broke basic safety rules, like speeding or texting while driving will be considered evidence of negligence. 

In other cases, where the rules aren’t so clear-cut, you’ll have to prove negligence by comparing somebody’s actions with what we expect them to do. 

In the law, that’s called a standard of care.

What Is The Standard Of Care?

Government agencies can create standards of care, such as OSHA workplace rules. Industries and professions have their standards as to how things should be done. In court, lawyers will use these standards to argue for negligence to a jury. 

In some cases though, there are no standards or rules that apply to a particular situation. And in that case, you just have to look to common sense, or what people think an ordinarily careful person ought to do under the circumstance. 

It will be up to your lawyer to explain to the jurors what that person knew and what they should have known, and what they did and what they should have done. 

Sometimes this is done with the help of expert witnesses. 

How Expert Witnesses Can Help Determine Negligence.

In a slip and fall case involving an icy sidewalk, a jury may be asked to decide if a property owner or manager who is responsible for maintaining that sidewalk was negligent. 

In that kind of case, the jury is likely to hear evidence about such things as: when was the last time the sidewalk was salted, sanded, or plowed? When was the last snowstorm? And what kind of footwear was the injured person wearing? 

Based on all the evidence the jury hears, they will decide collectively whether the property owner or manager was negligent under those circumstances. 

In a trip and fall case involving an unsafe stairway, on the other hand, lawyers might have a professional engineer or architect talk to the jury about the codes for how stairways are built; the safety rules that apply to stairways, or why a particular stairway should be considered unsafe based on how it was built. 

Summary: What Is Negligence In A Personal Injury Claim 

Negligence is a topic that we could discuss for days, and still only scratch the surface. But you should know at least this: 

  1. Negligence generally means to be at fault or to be liable. There is usually a specific insurance company for negligent acts, and there are often insurance adjusters who handle only negligence claims. 
  2. In most cases, a person or business must have been negligent to be held responsible for your injuries and to be required to compensate you. 
  3. Some acts or choices not to act will be almost automatically considered negligent, while others will depend on the facts of the case and how those are ultimately presented to the jury. 

Those are the basics. For more on how negligence may apply to your specific situation, it’s probably a good idea to talk to a personal injury lawyer in your area.