What is Negligence—Part 1—The Standard of Care

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If you’ve been injured by another person, there are a number of different approaches to pursuing compensation for your losses, based in part on how the law treats certain types of acts, and in part on the state of mind of the person committing the act that caused your injury. For general purposes, though, most personal injury claims are either based on an intentional act or negligence. The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits allege negligence.

So what do you need to show to demonstrate that a wrongdoer (known under the law as a “tortgfeasor”) was negligent? Here are the basics:

The first thing to understand about negligence is that it’s based on the premise that everyone, in everything that they do, has a duty to exercise a certain level of care. Whether you are driving a car, operating a power tool, designing a product or leasing out an apartment, you have a duty under the law to use some degree of care at all times. What is that standard? In New Jersey and across the United States, the duty is to act as a reasonable person would. Doesn’t help much, does it—just what would a reasonable person do? Some courts have gone further in attempting to define the standard of care, saying it’s essentially that level of care that would be exercised by an “average person of ordinary prudence.” Still not much help, but that’s generally as far as the courts are willing to go.

As a practical matter, what constitutes the required degree of care is determined by a jury whenever a case goes to trial. So, if you’ve been injured because a neighbor failed to shovel his sidewalk and you slipped and fell on the snow/ice, the jury will have to take a look at the facts of the case and determine if the actions of your neighbor were reasonable. That can be affected by a number of factors:

  • How heavily was it snowing?
  • Did your neighbor have knowledge that it was snowing (did it snow in the middle of the night?)
  • Should your neighbor have expected that it would snow and would pose a safety risk?

The important thing to understand about the standard of care is this—to win a personal injury claim based on negligence, you have to show that the defendant did not exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would. In legal terms, you must show that the defendant “breached” the duty to exercise reasonable care.

Click here to read Part 2 of “What is Negligence

Contact the Attorneys at Mallon & Tranger

We offer a free initial consultation to anyone who has been injured by the carelessness of another person. To set up a meeting, contact us online or call us at 732-410-6094 (toll free at 877-320-0692) for an appointment. We have offices in Freehold, Toms River and Point Pleasant.

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