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In order to successfully pursue a personal injury case, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant was in fact negligent. To show negligence, a plaintiff must prove the following elements:

  1. Duty
  2. Breach
  3. Causation
  4. Damages.


The concept of “duty” is one that is well-grounded in the law and in precedent. Generally, every person owes the world around him or her a “duty” to use reasonable care, and to not cause unnecessary harm to other people, property and other things. Professionals such as doctors have a heightened duty of care towards others when treating them because of their status as trained professionals.


Assuming that the presence of a duty on the part of the defendant has been established, the plaintiff must then prove that the defendant breached that duty either by acting or failing to act. The standard applied here is the “reasonable person” standard, which means that the decision maker in a case must decide what a “reasonable person” would have done or not done under similar circumstances. A breach of duty may be shown if it is decided that the defendant did not act in that manner.


Once the first two elements have been proven, the plaintiff must move on to prove causation, one of the most complicated legal theories that exists in the realm of personal injury law. Basically, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty caused the injuries that occurred. There are several tests that a court will apply to help reach this determination. The plaintiff must show that but for the defendant’s action, the plaintiff likely would not have been injured.


If the plaintiff manages to prove the first three elements, his or her case is not proven overall at this point. He or she must also prove that there were damages suffered, and these need not be only monetary damages. A plaintiff can suffer damages by way of pain and suffering, extreme emotional distress and loss of companionship, among other things, but in order to hold someone accountable for causing an injury, the plaintiff must also show a loss.