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The 4 elements that build your car accident case against the other driver
So you were injured in a car accident, and you’re wondering what comes next.
A car accident involving more than one vehicle typically falls under negligence.
You have to prove four things in a negligence case: duty of care, breach of that duty, causation and damages. If you are the plaintiff in the case, proving negligence on the part of the defendant can mean the difference between having your medical fees and damages covered or being left with a large financial burden.
It might seem straightforward in your mind – of course the driver owed me a duty of care! Of course he breached it! Of course he caused my injury! Of course he owes me damages!
But it might not be so clear to a jury or a judge, so you have to make sure that you gather all critical evidence and bring it to your attorney. The two of you can sort through everything to make sure that the trail of bread crumbs leads from point A to point B, all the way to point D. If you can’t walk that trail to the end and hit every point, you will likely be denied any damages.
Illustrate that the defendant owed you a duty of care
Every driver owes other drivers on the road a basic duty of care.
That person is not to operate his vehicle in a way that would injure others. The basis of your case is that the other driver was negligent, so your first order of business is to prove that fact. If the other driver was speeding, following too closely, sending text messages while driving or committing another obvious traffic violation – particularly if the driver was cited for the violation – you have evidence to support your claims of negligence.
The key phrase here is "duty of reasonable care." Drivers are required by law to operate motor vehicles conscientiously and take care to avoid injury to others. Your task, or that of your car accident attorney, is to show proof that the defendant was not exercising reasonable care when the car wreck occurred.
This can be tricky because the defendant will be looking out for his own interests, and this might be reflected in the police report.
After all, why would he want to hurt his own interests? In the aftermath of an accident, however, many drivers simply blurt out exactly what happened: “I’m so sorry, the dog ran right in front of the car!” “I can’t believe I wasn’t looking at the road!” “The sun was right in my eyes!” Make sure to read the police report carefully and assess the conditions of the accident scene as well to establish a link between the defendant’s actions and your injuries.
2. Show that the defendant breached his duty of care
This ties in closely with the previous point. How did the defendant breach his duty of care? Was he speeding? Did he cross into the other lane? Did he do a U-turn into oncoming traffic while texting? As long as you can establish this breach, then you have also established the second element of negligence.
The standard here is “reasonable care.” This is an objective standard, so the defendant had to act as any other reasonable person would in the same situation. If you can show that a reasonable person wouldn’t have reacted the same way, then you’re golden for proving a breach of duty.
Causation and damages
Points three and four should be discussed together, because you have to show that the breach was the fault of the defendant and that his actions specifically caused your injuries.
The court system needs proof of this loss in order to assess the validity of your case. Make sure to gather all medical records and billing statements related to your injuries and financial hardships, as well as any repair bills for damage to your car.
Damages worksheet to track expenses for your injury claim (medical treatment, property damage, lost wages, prescriptions)
Download in PDF format
You have to show that the defendant was both the actual and proximate cause of your injuries. In terms of actual causation, you need to show that but for the defendant’s actions, you would not have been harmed. This is called the “but for” test. Sometimes the absurdity of the English language calls for substitutions like “if not,” but legally it serves the same purpose. If not for the defendant doing what he did, you would not have been injured. Not only that, but the defendant must have been the proximate cause as well – the injury must have been foreseeable. A reasonable person would think that texting while driving could result in an accident, for example.
It all returns to this hypothetical reasonable person. You must paint a picture of Bob Normal, the blandest, most vanilla individual in existence.
Bob would never do any of the things that the defendant did. Bob surely wouldn’t have side-swiped your car while playing a game on his phone. A reasonable person wouldn’t have done that! His actions resulted in your broken arm and totaled car. But for his actions, you would not be injured and your car wouldn’t be damaged.
Your attorney will be able to help you paint this picture. As long as you’ve collected all relevant evidence from the accident, he or she can take that information and use it to take your claim from point A to point D, proving all four issues with ease.
If you need help finding an attorney, check out the Enjuris law firm directory.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.