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What is negligence?


In its simplest terms, negligence is when someone fails to act in a careful, reasonable manner and, as a result, damages occur.  It’s an objective measure, judged by the “reasonable person” standard, under the circumstances. 


The damages can include bodily harm like a broken arm, or property damages like a totaled vehicle. An individual who acts negligently does not intend to cause harm, but harm can result from their unreasonable actions.

What are the elements of negligence?


In Georgia, there are four elements that must be demonstrated in order for a claim for negligence to be established.  

  • Duty: This refers to an obligation or responsibility to act in a reasonable manner toward other individuals.  In short, just because you suffer an injury does not mean the negligent person can be held legally responsible.  It must first be shown that they owed you a duty of care to act reasonably, based on their relationship to you. 

  • Breach of Duty: The defendant acted in an irresponsible or unreasonable manner with regard to the status, or relationship, toward you. When a person breaches a duty, it is said they violated their duty of care. 

  • Causation: The actions of the negligent individual caused the car wreck, injury, accident, etc.  There are two types of legal causes:  actual and proximate.  Both must be met in order to hold a negligent individual responsible. 

  • Damages: You must prove injuries or damages arose from the defendant’s actions.  Hypothetical or potential injuries don’t count.

How is duty determined?


An individual’s duty arises primarily from their relationship, or status, towards the victim. 


For instance, a negligent driver who causes a car accident owed a duty to drive safely to the second driver (driver A) whose car was hit.  The negligent driver may also be responsible for causing an unrelated, third driver (driver B) to be late to work and miss out on an important promotion due to the traffic caused by the collision.  The negligent driver owed a legal duty to driver A – namely, not to drive carelessly and cause property damage and bodily injury to driver A.  But, no legal duty is recognized to driver B. 


Although driver B suffered “damages” caused by the collision, the negligent driver cannot be held legally responsible as accidents on the roadway happen and are foreseeable.

What is an actual cause?


Actual cause is the literal cause for one’s injury, also described as the cause-in-fact.  It is determined by applying the “but for” test.  For instance “but for” the negligent driver speeding, the collision would not have occurred.

What is proximate cause?


Proximate cause is the legal cause for an injury that, as a matter of policy, the law is willing to recognize.    Grounded in concepts of foreseeability, it is a way to set a limit on liability for damages or injuries that are tenuously related to the negligent act. 


The primary and most direct cause for an injury or damages is usually known as the proximate cause.  Proving proximate cause can be difficult because it does not have to be the first event to take place.

What is an intervening cause?


An intervening cause, or intervening act, is one that breaks the chain of causation.  When the defendant has carried out their negligent act, and then another, unrelated event occurs afterwards and intervenes to be the primary cause to a person’s injuries, it is an intervening cause. 


For example, if a negligent person (person A) leaves their keys in their unlocked vehicle in their driveway.  But, a second negligent person (person B) steals the vehicle and gets in a car accident.  Person B’s subsequent criminal and negligent actions are said to be an intervening cause, and Person A cannot be held responsible. 


Stated another way, an intervening cause can shield the original negligent person (person A) from legal liability.

What is negligence per se?


Negligence per se is when a person violates a statute or regulation designed for the safety of other individuals.  If someone is injured as a result of the safety statute’s violation, the negligent individual is legally recognized as being “per se” negligent and no further proof need be shown. 


In other words, it is not necessary to question whether a reasonable person would have acted in the same manner under the circumstances.


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