The Five Elements of a Negligence Claim

The Five Elements of a Negligence Claim

Negligence, whether it is driver impairment or an operational error, is always unintentional. No one means to cause a crash and cause injury. Therefore, a negligence case essentially holds people responsible for the errors they make. We all make mistakes, and we must all deal with the consequences of our mistakes.

Paying compensation is the consequence of a driving mistake, at least in this context. In order to obtain fair compensation, a San Jose personal injury attorney must construct a case that is strong enough to convince jurors that the defendant was negligent. A negligence case has five basic elements, which are outlined below.


All negligence cases, including car crash cases, begin with legal duty. Under California law, most noncommercial drivers have a duty of reasonable care. They must drive defensively at all times. Most commercial drivers have a higher duty of care. They must take even more precautions when they are behind the wheel.

Proceeding through an intersection is a good example of the difference. Noncommercial drivers may go through the intersection on green. Commercial drivers arguably must stop, or at least slow down, to ensure that the intersection is clear before they move forward.


Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) breach their duty of care when their conduct falls below the standard of care. Some people believe that any misconduct is a breach of duty. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Distracted driving is a good example. Technically, actions like rolling down the window or adjusting the air conditioner constitute distracted driving. But most jurors would not see these things as a breach of duty. Instead, a tortfeasor must completely ignore safe driving habits. Constant talking on a phone or arguing with a passenger are probably breaches of duty.


There must be a link between the breach of duty and the victim’s injuries. Lawyers usually refer to this element as but-for causation, as in the injuries would not have occurred “but for” the tortfeasor’s negligence.

Many wrecks have more than one cause. For example, a drunk driver might run a red light and t-bone a car in an intersection. Either the driver’s intoxication or the failure to stop could have caused the wreck. In these situations, attorneys usually focus on the cause most likely to generate fair compensation, which in this case would be alcohol consumption.

Proximate Cause

This element of cause essentially means foreseeability. In this context, “foreseeability” does not mean “inevitable” or even “likely.” It basically means “within the realm of possibility.” A car crash is always a foreseeable consequence of driving, even though crashes are not very common.

Sometimes, an intervening event breaks the chain of foreseeable events. That’s the case if a victim breaks his leg in a car crash and a doctor makes a medical mistake at the hospital. The injury is foreseeable, but the medical mistake is not.


Near misses are scary, but they are not actionable in court. The victim/plaintiff must normally sustain a physical injury. That injury could be property damage or a personal injury.

Unlike fines, damages do not punish tortfeasors. Car crash victims need money to put their lives back together. And, since these accidents were not their fault, that money should not come from their own pockets.

Connect with a Diligent Attorney

Negligence cases have five basic elements. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in San Jose, contact Solution Now Law Firm. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.


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