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Understanding the elements of negligence

On Behalf of | Dec 29, 2022 | PERSONAL INJURY (PLAINTIFF) - Personal Injury

Negligence is a legal theory that underlies most personal injury lawsuits. While negligence means something like “carelessness,” the legal term has a specific meaning. To establish negligence, the plaintiff in a Maryland personal injury lawsuit typically must establish certain facts known as elements.

These elements apply to cases involving a wide variety of circumstances, including:

  • Motor vehicle accidents (may involve passenger vehicles, commercial trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians etc.)
  • Slip-and-fall accidents
  • Construction accidents
  • Dog bites
  • Wrongful death
  • Medical malpractice

What are the elements of negligence?

If you decide to file a negligence claim following your accident, you will need to prove the following four elements:

  • Duty: A duty of care or responsibility owed to other people.
  • Breach of duty: Failure to act with reasonable care, therefore breaching duty of care owed to someone else.
  • Causation: The breach of duty resulted in an accident.
  • Damages: The accident caused the victim to suffer injuries and/or damages.


The facts in any two personal injury lawsuits may be very different from each other, but the cases always involve these elements. To build a personal injury lawsuit, you must apply these elements to the facts of your case.

For example, in a car accident case, you start with the question of duty. All drivers have a duty to exercise caution so as to minimize the risk of an accident that might hurt someone else.

A driver breaches this duty when they fail to act with care, such as when a driver takes their eyes off the road in order to text on a smartphone.

To show causation, you must show that it was the defendant’s breach of duty led to the accident. In the example of the texting driver, the injured party would show that it was the other driver’s lack of attention that caused the accident.

Finally, you establish damages by showing what you lost as a result of your injuries. This includes purely economic damages such as your medical expenses and the wages you lost while you were recovering. It may also include non-economic damages such as the pain and suffering you have experienced as a result of your injuries.

Attorneys help injured people and their families to see how the elements of negligence apply to the facts of their unique circumstances.