What is Negligence? Understanding the meaning of negligence.

If you are not a lawyer, and you don’t regularly watch Judge Judy, you might wonder, what is negligence? If you have been involved in an accident, negligence is where your potential claim starts, and, depending on the circumstances, it can be where your claim ends.

What is the Definition of Negligence?

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the legal definition of negligence is “[t]he omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do. Or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do.” The negligence definition found in Black’s Law Dictionary may be difficult to understand. And, you may think, that is nice, but what does negligence mean for me and the accident that I have just been involved in. The following scenarios will help you to understand the meaning of negligence.

What the negligence definition can mean for your accident

John was driving home from work when he passed through an intersection on a green light. As he passed through the intersection, a 16-year-old, who received his driver’s license the week before, sped through the intersection on a red light and slammed into the side of John’s car. As John was getting t-boned in the intersection, on the other side of town, Jane Doe pulled into her driveway after commuting home from work. As she pulled into her driveway, a strong gust of wind came up and blew a branch off of her neighbor’s tree, sending the tree branch crashing down onto the roof of her car. Considering these two scenarios, and what negligence refers to, John and Jane may find themselves in very different positions after their respective accidents. The 16-year-old that hit John did something that a reasonable person would not do, he ran a red light. Therefore, the legal definition of negligence may be satisfied in John’s accident and he could have a potential claim moving forward. Jane’s crushed car roof from her neighbor’s tree may be a different outcome. If Jane’s neighbor kept his tree pruned and well maintained, then his actions would have been reasonable and prudent. Therefore, Jane may not have a claim against her neighbor. However, Jane may question whether or not her neighbor truly was reasonable and prudent in the care of his tree. She may seek out legal advice to help her prove that her neighbor was in fact negligent in the care and maintenance of his tree. In other words, Jane may truly want to know if her neighbor’s actions meet the negligence definition in tort law.

Define negligent under the law

To prevail on a negligence claim, four elements must be established: (1) the existence of a duty of care, (2) breach of that duty, (3) legal causation, and (4) damages. Those four elements make up the answer to the question of what is negligence. Those four elements can be broken down as follows: Duty of care: The obligation to act in a certain way in a given circumstance. For example, a driver of a vehicle has a duty to obey all traffic laws and ordinances while driving. Breach of duty: The failure to abide by the obligation to act in a certain way in a given circumstance. When the 16-year-old driver ran the red light, he breached his duty of care to obey all traffic laws and ordinance while driving. Legal causation: The breach of duty must be the actual cause and the proximate cause of the harm from the accident. Actual cause means that if it was not for the breach of duty, then the harm would not have occurred. Proximate cause means that there were no other causes that intervened at the time of the accident and caused the harm. Other causes may destroy liability or at least reduce the award that the injured party can receive. A jury may find that the windstorm that blew Jane’s neighbor’s tree branch off of the tree was an intervening cause, thereby interfering with the proximate cause aspect of legal causation. Damages: A quantifiable amount of harm that the accident caused. The damage to John’s car when the 16-year-old crashed into his car and the broken arm he suffered in the accident are quantifiable harms that make up the damages of the accident. Proving any one of the above elements can be very complicated, and if just one of the above elements does not exist when an accident happens, then the injured party will not have a negligence claim. Therefore, it is extremely important that you consult with a Las Vegas personal injury attorney if you have been involved in any kind of accident.

Gross Negligence

When a person’s actions are particularly egregious, then their actions may constitute what is called gross negligence. There is no simple formula for determining when certain conduct goes from negligence to gross negligence. Some courts have defined gross negligence as negligence that is substantially and appreciably higher in magnitude and more culpable than ordinary negligence. In other words, it means that the offending party failed to exercise even a slight degree of care. For example, if the 16-year-old that struck John was driving at 110 mph when the collision occurred, then he may be liable for gross negligence. Now, next time one of your friends asks, “what is the definition of negligence?”, you will be ready with an answer. And, if in response to your friend’s question you find yourself wondering, “what is negligence?”, take a quick peak back here!


If you’ve sustained an injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact the Nevada personal injury attorney team at Valiente Mott Injury Attorneys today for a free consultation.  We are a team of legal experts that will help you navigate through the complicated legal process. 

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