“Negligence per se” is a legal doctrine whereby an act is considered negligent if the act violates a statute. It’s an important doctrine to understand because, if it applies to your personal injury lawsuit, you won’t have to prove fault as much as you normally would to receive compensation.
Let’s take a closer look.
What is negligence per se?
In a traditional negligence case, you must prove the following 3 elements:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care,
- The defendant breached the duty of care, and
- You were injured and incurred damages as a result of the defendant’s breach.
The first 2 elements can be difficult to prove.
In some cases, it’s clear that a defendant owed you a duty of care and that their actions breached that duty of care. But in other cases, it’s less obvious. Either way, the elements must be proven (and that takes time and money).
However, if the doctrine of negligence per se applies, the defendant’s act serves to establish the first 2 elements automatically. In other words, you won’t have to prove that the defendant owed you a duty of care or that the defendant breached the duty of care. All you’ll need to prove is that the breach caused your injuries.
When does negligence per se apply?
In the vast majority of jurisdictions, negligence per se applies if:
- The defendant violated a statute or regulation
- The intent of the statute or regulation was the prevention of the injury that ended up occurring
- The injured person is counted in the class of people the law was intended to protect
Examples of negligence per se
Still confused about whether negligence per se applies to your case?
Here are 2 examples:
In the state of Arizona, a statute requires all vehicles to come to a complete stop at a “school crossing” during school hours. The intent of the law is to keep pedestrians safe from vehicles using the road.
One morning, a teacher uses a school crossing during school hours. A driver fails to stop at the crossing and collides with the teacher. The teacher sustains a serious back injury.
In this example, negligence per se would apply because (1) the driver violated a statute (i.e., the school crossing statute), (2) the intent of the statute was to prevent the injury that occurred (i.e., a pedestrian getting hit by a car), and (3) the teacher was in the class of people the law was intended to protect (i.e., pedestrians).
In California, a statute requires that all livestock being transported by boat must be kept in pens. The statute was enacted to prevent the spread of infection among animals.
A California ship was transporting sheep. During a severe storm, several sheep washed overboard. The owner of the sheep sued the shipping company. The owner argued that had the sheep been secured in pens, they wouldn’t have been washed overboard.
In this example, negligence per se would NOT apply because, even though the shipping company violated the statute, the injury that occurred (getting washed overboard) was not the injury the statute was intended to prevent (getting an infection).
Think negligence per se might apply to your case? Not sure if it applies?
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