is a failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances. The area of tort law known as negligence
involves harm caused by carelessness
, not intentional harm.
According to Jay M. Feinman of the Rutgers University School of Law, "The core idea of negligence is that people should exercise reasonable care when they act by taking account of the potential harm that they might foreseeably cause to other people."
"those who go personally or bring property where they know that they or it may come into collision with the persons or property of others have by law a duty cast upon them to use reasonable care and skill to avoid such a collision." Fletcher v Rylands ( LR 1 Ex 265)
Rylands v Fletcher  was a decision by the House of Lords which established a new area of English tort law. Rylands employed contractors to build a reservoir, playing no active role in its construction. When the contractors discovered a series of old coal shafts improperly filled with debris,...
Through civil litigation, if an injured person proves that another person acted negligently to cause his injury, he can recover damages
In law, damages is an award, typically of money, to be paid to a person as compensation for loss or injury; grammatically, it is a singular noun, not plural.- Compensatory damages :...
to compensate for his harm. Proving a case for negligence can potentially entitle the injured plaintiff to compensation for harm
HARM or H.A.R.M. may refer to:* AGM-88 HARM, a high-speed anti-radiation missile* Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum, a museum in Creve Coeur, Missouri, United States...
to their body, property, mental well-being, financial status, or intimate relationships.
Loss of consortium is a term used in the law of torts that refers to the deprivation of the benefits of a family relationship due to injuries caused by a tortfeasor. Loss of consortium arising from personal injuries was recognized under the English common law...
However, because negligence cases are very fact-specific, this general definition does not fully explain the concept of when the law will require one person to compensate another for losses caused by accidental injury. Further, the law of negligence at common law is only one aspect of the law of liability. Although resulting damages must be proven in order to recover compensation in a negligence action, the nature and extent of those damages are not the primary focus of negligence cases.
Elements of negligence claims
Negligence suits have historically been analyzed in stages, called elements, similar to the analysis of crimes (see Element (criminal law)). An important concept related to elements is that if a plaintiff fails to prove any one element of his claim, he loses on the entire tort claim. For example, let's assume that a particular tort has five elements. Each element must be proven. If the plaintiff proves only four of the five elements, the plaintiff has not succeeded in making out his claim.
Common law jurisdictions may differ slightly in the exact classification of the elements of negligence, but the elements that must be established in every negligence case are: duty
In tort law, a duty of care is a legal obligation imposed on an individual requiring that they adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others. It is the first element that must be established to proceed with an action in negligence. The claimant...
, breach, causation, and damages. Each is defined and explained in greater detail in the paragraphs below. Negligence can be conceived of as having just three elements - conduct, causation and damages. More often, it is said to have four (duty, breach, causation and pecuniary damages) or five (duty, breach, actual cause, proximate cause, and damages). Each would be correct, depending on how much specificity someone is seeking. "The broad agreement on the conceptual model", writes Professor Robertson of the University of Texas, "entails recognition that the five elements are best defined with care and kept separate. But in practice", he goes on to warn, "several varieties of confusion or conceptual mistakes have sometimes occurred."
Duty of care
The case of Donoghue v. Stevenson
Donoghue v Stevenson  UKHL 100 was a decision of the House of Lords that established the modern concept of negligence in Scots law and English law, by setting out general principles whereby one person would owe another person a duty of care...
 illustrates the law of negligence, laying the foundations of the fault
Fault, as a legal term, refers to legal blameworthiness and responsibility in each area of law. It refers to both the actus reus and the mental state of the defendant. The basic principle is that a defendant should be able to contemplate the harm that his actions may cause, and therefore should...
principle around the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...
. The Pursuer, Donoghue, drank ginger beer given to her by a friend, who bought it from a shop. The beer was supplied by a manufacturer - a certain Stevenson in Scotland. While drinking the drink, Ms. Donoghue discovered the remains of an allegedly decomposed slug
Slug is a common name that is normally applied to any gastropod mollusc that lacks a shell, has a very reduced shell, or has a small internal shell...
. She then sued Stevenson, though there was no relationship of contract, as the friend had made the payment. As there was no contract
A contract is an agreement entered into by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing. Contracts can be made orally. The remedy for breach of contract can be "damages" or compensation of money. In equity, the remedy can be specific...
the doctrine of privity prevented a direct action against the manufacturer, Andrew Smith.
In his ruling, justice Lord MacMillan defined a new category of delict (the Scots law nearest equivalent of tort), (which is really not based on negligence but on what is now known as the "implied warranty of fitness of a product" in a completely different category of tort--"products liability") because it was analogous to previous cases about people hurting each other. Lord Atkin interpreted the biblical passages to 'love thy neighbour,' as the legal requirement to 'not harm thy neighbour.' He then went on to define neighbour as "persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions that are called in question." Reasonably foreseeable harm must be compensated. This is the first principle of negligence.
In England the more recent case of Caparo v. Dickman
 introduced a 'threefold test' for a duty of care. Harm must be (1) reasonably foreseeable (2) there must be a relationship of proximity between the plaintiff and defendant and (3) it must be 'fair, just and reasonable' to impose liability. However, these act as guidelines for the courts in establishing a duty of care; much of the principle is still at the discretion of judges.
Breach of duty
Once it is established that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff/claimant, the matter of whether or not that duty was breached must be settled. The test is both subjective and objective. The defendant who knowingly (subjective) exposes the plaintiff/claimant to a substantial risk of loss, breaches that duty. The defendant who fails to realize the substantial risk of loss to the plaintiff/claimant, which any reasonable person
The reasonable person is a legal fiction of the common law that represents an objective standard against which any individual's conduct can be measured...
[objective] in the same situation would clearly have realized, also breaches that duty.
Breach of duty is not limited to professionals or persons under written or oral contract; all members of society have a duty to exercise reasonable care toward others and their property. A person who engages in activities that pose an unreasonable risk toward others and their property that actually results in harm, breaches their duty of reasonable care. An example is shown in the facts of Bolton v. Stone
Bolton v Stone  AC 850,  1 All ER 1078 is a leading House of Lords case in the tort of negligence, establishing that a defendant is not negligent if the damage to the plaintiff was not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of his conduct...
, a 1951 legal case decided by the House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....
which established that a defendant is not negligent if the damage to the plaintiff was not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of his conduct. In the case, a Miss Stone was struck on the head by a cricket ball while standing outside her house. Cricket balls were not normally hit a far enough distance to pose a danger to people standing as far away as was Miss Stone. Although she was injured, the court held that she did not have a legitimate claim because the danger was not sufficiently foreseeable. As stated in the opinion, 'Reasonable risk' cannot be judged with the benefit of hindsight. As Lord Denning said in Roe v. Minister of Health
, the past should not be viewed through rose coloured spectacles. Therefore, there was no negligence on the part of the medical professionals in a case faulting them for using contaminated medical jars because the scientific standards of the time indicated a low possibility of medical jar contamination. Even if some were harmed, the professionals took reasonable care for risk to their patients.
For the rule in the U.S., see
- United States v. Carroll Towing Co.
United States v. Carroll Towing Co. 159 F.2d 169 is a decision from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that proposed a test to determine the standard of care for the tort of negligence...
159 F.2d 169 (2d. Cir. 1947)
: Calculus of negligence
In the United States, the calculus of negligence, or Hand rule or Hand formula, is a term coined by Judge Learned Hand and describes a process for determining whether a legal duty of care has been breached . The original description of the calculus was in U.S. v...
Factual causation (Direct Cause)
For a defendant to be held liable
Legal liability is the legal bound obligation to pay debts.* In law a person is said to be legally liable when they are financially and legally responsible for something. Legal liability concerns both civil law and criminal law. See Strict liability. Under English law, with the passing of the Theft...
, it must be shown that the particular acts or omissions were the cause of the loss or damage sustained. Although the notion sounds simple, the causation between one's breach of duty and the harm that results to another can at times be very complicated. The basic test is to ask whether the injury would have occurred before, or without, the accused party's breach of the duty owed to the injured party. Even more precisely, if a breaching party materially increases the risk of harm to another, then the breaching party can be sued to the value of harm that he caused.
Asbestos litigations which have been ongoing for decades revolve around the issue of causation. Interwoven with the simple idea of a party causing harm to another are issues on insurance
In law and economics, insurance is a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent, uncertain loss. Insurance is defined as the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another, in exchange for payment. An insurer is a company selling the...
bills and compensations, which sometimes drove compensating companies out of business.
Legal causation or remoteness
Sometimes factual causation is distinguished from 'legal causation' to avert the danger of defendants being exposed to, in the words of Cardozo, J., "liability in an indeterminate amount for an indeterminate time to an indeterminate class." It is said a new question arises of how remote a consequence a person's harm is from another's negligence. We say that one's negligence is 'too remote' (in England) or not a 'proximate cause
In the law, a proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury to be held the cause of that injury. There are two types of causation in the law, cause-in-fact and proximate cause. Cause-in-fact is determined by the "but-for" test: but for the action, the result...
' (in the U.S.) of another's harm if one would 'never' reasonably foresee it happening. Note that a 'proximate cause' in U.S. terminology (to do with the chain of events between the action and the injury) should not be confused with the 'proximity test' under the English duty of care (to do with closeness of relationship). The idea of legal causation is that if no one can foresee something bad happening, and therefore take care to avoid it, how could anyone be responsible? For instance, in Palsgraf v. Long Island Rail Road Co.
the judge decided that the defendant, a railway, was not liable for an injury suffered by a distant bystander. The plaintiff, Palsgraf, was hit by scales that fell on her as she waited on a train platform. The scales fell because of a far-away commotion. A train conductor
A conductor is a member of a railway train's crew that is responsible for operational and safety duties that do not involve the actual operation of the train. The title of conductor is most associated with railway operations in North America, but the role of conductor is common to railways...
had run to help a man into a departing train. The man was carrying a package as he jogged to jump in the train door. The package had fireworks in it. The conductor mishandled the passenger or his package, causing the package to fall. The fireworks slipped and exploded on the ground causing shockwaves to travel through the platform. As a consequence, the scales fell. Because Palsgraf was hurt by the falling scales, she sued the train
A train is a connected series of vehicles for rail transport that move along a track to transport cargo or passengers from one place to another place. The track usually consists of two rails, but might also be a monorail or maglev guideway.Propulsion for the train is provided by a separate...
company who employed the conductor for negligence.
The defendant train company argued it should not be liable as a matter of law, because despite the fact that they employed the employee, who was negligent, his negligence was too remote from the plaintiff's injury. On appeal, the majority of the court agreed, with four judges adopting the reasons, written by Judge Cardozo, that the defendant owed no duty of care to the plaintiff, because a duty was owed only to foreseeable plaintiffs. Three judges dissented, arguing, as written by Judge Andrews, that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, regardless of foreseeability, because all men owe one another a duty not to act negligently.
Such disparity of views on the element of remoteness continues to trouble the judiciary. Courts that follow Cardozo's view have greater control in negligence cases. If the court can find that, as a matter of law, the defendant owed no duty of care to the plaintiff, the plaintiff will lose his case for negligence before having a chance to present to the jury. Cardozo's view is the majority view. However, some courts follow the position put forth by Judge Andrews. In jurisdictions following the minority rule, defendants must phrase their remoteness arguments in terms of proximate cause if they wish the court to take the case away from the jury.
Remoteness takes another form, seen in the Wagon Mound (No. 1)
. The Wagon Mound was a ship in Sydney
Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and the state capital of New South Wales. Sydney is located on Australia's south-east coast of the Tasman Sea. As of June 2010, the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people...
harbour. The ship leaked oil creating a slick in part of the harbour. The wharf owner asked the ship owner about the danger and was told he could continue his work because the slick would not burn. The wharf owner allowed work to continue on the wharf, which sent sparks onto a rag in the water which ignited and created a fire which burnt down the wharf.
The UK House of Lords determined that the wharf owner 'intervened' in the causal chain, creating a responsibility for the fire which canceled out the liability of the ship owner.
In Australia, the concept of remoteness, or proximity, was tested with the case of Jaensch v. Coffey
. The wife of a policeman, Mrs Coffey suffered a nervous shock injury from the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident although she was not actually at the scene at the time of the accident. The court upheld in addition to it being reasonably foreseeable that his wife might suffer such an injury, it also required that there be sufficient proximity between the plaintiff and the defendant who caused the accident. Here there was sufficient causal proximity.
Even though there is breach of duty, and the cause of some injury to the defendant, a plaintiff may not recover unless he can prove that the defendant's breach caused a pecuniary injury. This should not be mistaken with the requirements that a plaintiff prove harm to recover. As a general rule, a plaintiff can only rely on a legal remedy to the point that he proves that he suffered a loss. It means something more than pecuniary loss is a necessary element of the plaintiff's case in negligence. When damages are not a necessary element, a plaintiff can win his case without showing that he suffered any loss; he would be entitled to nominal damages and any other damages according to proof.
Negligence is different in that the plaintiff must prove his loss, and a particular kind of loss, to recover. In some cases, a defendant may not dispute the loss, but the requirement is significant in cases where a defendant cannot deny his negligence, but the plaintiff suffered no loss as a result. If the plaintiff can prove pecuniary loss, then he can also obtain damages for non-pecuniary injuries, such as emotional distress.
The requirement of pecuniary loss can be shown in a number of ways. A plaintiff who is physically injured by allegedly negligent conduct may show that he had to pay a medical bill. If his property is damaged, he could show the income lost because he could not use it, the cost to repair it, although he could only recover for one of these things.
The damage may be physical, purely economic, both physical and economic (loss of earnings following a personal injury), or reputational (in a defamation case).
In English law, the right to claim for purely economic loss is limited to a number of 'special' and clearly defined circumstances, often related to the nature of the duty to the plaintiff as between clients and lawyers, financial advisers, and other professions where money is central to the consultative services.
The tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress is a controversial cause of action, which is available in nearly all U.S. states but is severely constrained and limited in the majority of them. The underlying concept is that one has a legal duty to use reasonable care to avoid causing...
has been recognized as an actionable tort. Generally, emotional distress damages had to be parasitic. That is, the plaintiff could recover for emotional distress caused by injury, but only if it accompanied a physical or pecuniary injury.
A claimant who suffered only emotional distress and no pecuniary loss would not recover for negligence. However, courts have recently allowed recovery for a plaintiff to recover for purely emotional distress under certain circumstances. The state courts of California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...
allowed recovery for emotional distress alone even in the absence of any physical injury, when the defendant physically injures a relative of the plaintiff, and the plaintiff witnesses it.
Damages place a monetary value on the harm done, following the principle of restitutio in integrum
Restitutio in integrum is a Latin maxim which means restoration to original condition. It is one of the primary guiding principles behind the awarding of damages in common law negligence claims...
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...
for "restoration to the original condition"). Thus, for most purposes connected with the quantification of damages, the degree of culpability
Culpability descends from the Latin concept of fault . The concept of culpability is intimately tied up with notions of agency, freedom and free will...
in the breach of the duty of care is irrelevant. Once the breach of the duty is established, the only requirement is to compensate the victim.
One of the main tests that is posed when deliberating whether a claimant is entitled to compensation for a tort, is the "reasonable person
The reasonable person is a legal fiction of the common law that represents an objective standard against which any individual's conduct can be measured...
". The test is self-explanatory: would a reasonable person (as determined by a judge or jury) be damaged by the breach of duty. Simple as the "reasonable person" test sounds, it is very complicated. It is a risky test because it involves the opinion of either the judge or the jury that can be based on limited facts. However, as vague as the "reasonable person" test seems, it is extremely important in deciding whether or not a plaintiff is entitled to compensation for a negligence tort.
Damages are compensatory in nature. Compensatory damages addresses a plaintiff/claimant's losses (in cases involving physical or mental injury the amount awarded also compensates for pain and suffering). The award should make the plaintiff whole, sufficient to put the plaintiff back in the position he or she was before Defendant's negligent act. Anything more would unlawfully permit a plaintiff to profit from the tort.
Types of Damage:
- Special damages - quantifiable dollar losses suffered from the date of defendant's negligent act (the tort) up to a specified time (proven at trial). Special damage examples include: lost wages, medical bills, and damage to property such as your car.
- General damages - these are damages that are not quantified in monetary terms (e.g., there's no invoice or receipt as there would be to prove special damages). A general damage example is an amount for the pain and suffering one experiences from a car accident. Lastly, where the plaintiff proves only minimal loss or damage, or the court or jury is unable to quantify the losses, the court or jury may award nominal damages, sometimes the symbolic $1 you see the jury award in movies.
- Punitive damages
Punitive damages or exemplary damages are damages intended to reform or deter the defendant and others from engaging in conduct similar to that which formed the basis of the lawsuit...
- Punitive damages are to punish a defendant, they are NOT to compensate plaintiffs in negligence cases. Therefore, punitive damages are NOT obtainable in a negligence case. Punitive damages are awardable only in cases where a defendant has been found "guilty" of intentional, reckless or malicious wrongdoing, such as fraud, defamation or false imprisonment. The easy way to remember this concept is to think about a car accident where there is physical injury. If the defendant driver was negligent (say by running a red light) then punitive damages cannot be sought. But if the defendant driver was drunk then punitive damages could be awarded.
Procedure in the United States
A plaintiff , also known as a claimant or complainant, is the term used in some jurisdictions for the party who initiates a lawsuit before a court...
must prove each element to win his case. Therefore, if it is highly unlikely that the plaintiff can prove one of the elements, the defendant may request judicial resolution early on, to prevent the case from going to a jury. This can be by way of a demurrer
A demurrer is a pleading in a lawsuit that objects to or challenges a pleading filed by an opposing party. The word demur means "to object"; a demurrer is the document that makes the objection...
, motion to dismiss, or motion for summary judgment
In law, a summary judgment is a determination made by a court without a full trial. Such a judgment may be issued as to the merits of an entire case, or of specific issues in that case....
. The ability to resolve a negligence case without trial is very important to defendants. Without the specific limits provided by the four elements, any plaintiff could claim any defendant was responsible for any loss, and subject him to a costly trial.
The elements allow a defendant to test a plaintiff's accusations before trial, as well as providing a guide to the "finder of fact" (jury) to decide whether the defendant is or is not liable, after the trial. Whether the case is resolved with or without trial again depends heavily on the particular facts of the case, and the ability of the parties to frame the issues to the court. The duty and causation elements in particular give the court the greatest opportunity to take the case from the jury, because they directly involve questions of policy. The court can find that regardless of the disputed facts, if any, the case can be resolved as a matter of law from undisputed facts, because two people in the position of the plaintiff and defendant simply cannot be legally responsible to one another for negligent injury.
On appeal, the court reviewing a decision in a negligence case will analyze in terms of at least one of these elements, depending on the disposition of the case and the question on appeal. For example, if it is an appeal from a final judgment after a jury verdict, the reviewing court will look to see that the jury was properly instructed on each contested element, and that the record shows sufficient evidence for the jury's findings. On an appeal from a dismissal or judgment against the plaintiff without trial, the court will review de novo
whether the court below properly found that the plaintiff could not prove any or all of his case.
Carelessness is lack of concern about the consequences of an action, and by extension, the behavior that results from that lack of concern.Carelessness has been hypothesized to be one possible cause of accident-proneness.-External links:* *...
- Criminal negligence
In the criminal law, criminal negligence is one of the three general classes of mens rea element required to constitute a conventional as opposed to strict liability offense. It is defined as an act that is:-Concept:...
The term intentionality was introduced by Jeremy Bentham as a principle of utility in his doctrine of consciousness for the purpose of distinguishing acts that are intentional and acts that are not...
In law, malpractice is a type of negligence in, which the professional under a duty to act, fails to follow generally accepted professional standards, and that breach of duty is the proximate cause of injury to a plaintiff who suffers harm...
- Medical negligence
- Mens rea
Mens rea is Latin for "guilty mind". In criminal law, it is viewed as one of the necessary elements of a crime. The standard common law test of criminal liability is usually expressed in the Latin phrase, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which means "the act does not make a person guilty...
Neglect is a passive form of abuse in which a perpetrator is responsible to provide care for a victim who is unable to care for himself or herself, but fails to provide adequate care....
- Negligence in English Law
English tort law concerns civil wrongs, as distinguished from criminal wrongs, in the law of England and Wales. Some wrongs are the concern of the state, and so the police can enforce the law on the wrongdoers in court – in a criminal case...
- Britannica 1911's account of negligence: an interesting historical read, preceding the era of Buick Motor and Donoghue v. Stevenson.