When someone wrongfully injures you, you can pursue legal action to get compensated for the losses they’ve caused. Physical injuries and their toll can be life-changing, but being hurt isn’t enough to guarantee a successful outcome. In a personal injury lawsuit, you must prove negligence on behalf of the defendant, or the person being sued. Under common law, negligence is defined as a breach of duty that caused harm. The plaintiff first has to prove that the defendant owed a duty of care, that the defendant breached this duty, and that their breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In short, to prove common law negligence, a plaintiff has to prove that a defendant did not act as a reasonable person would have.
There’s also another way of proving negligence, and that is negligence per se. Negligence per se, which is latin for negligence in itself, is a type of action when a defendant violates a safety regulation, law, or ordinance designed to protect people.
What Is Negligence Per Se?
In cases of negligence per se, a plaintiff does not have to prove that the defendant breached their common law duty. Since it is unreasonable for an individual to violate a safety regulation, law, or ordinance, the plaintiff has to prove these elements to properly allege that a defendant was negligent per se.
The defendant must have violated a statute or regulation. Simply put, the defendant must have broken a law designed to prevent harm. Negligence per se lawsuits often involve breaking traffic laws and building code violations, both of which spell out exact requirements to adhere to.
The plaintiff must belong to the group the statute is designed to protect. In cases of traffic law violations, this is usually straightforward. Traffic statutes are devised to protect the general public from harm, and someone injured because of a traffic violation belongs to this group. However, in cases of building-related violations, the defendant may try to argue that the plaintiff doesn’t belong to the protected group.
The statute is intended to prevent the type of injury that occurred. While some laws are specific about the injury they’re intended to prevent, most public safety statutes are designed in order to avoid all bodily harm instead of specific injuries. If a defendant breaks the law — for example, running a red light — and injures someone, they’ve caused the damage the statute was intended to prevent.
The violation was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. The plaintiff still has to prove that the violation of the safety regulation, law, or ordinance is the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. For example, if a plaintiff is injured in a motor vehicle collision, the plaintiff cannot allege negligence per se if the defendant ran a red light 10 minutes before the collision occurred. While the defendant is negligent in that example, the negligence of running the red light was not a proximate cause of the collision.
When Is Negligence Per Se Effective?
There are a few scenarios where negligence per se actions are effective. In dog bite cases, if the plaintiff is in a locality that has leash ordinances, a negligence per se action against the dog owner may be more effective. In that scenario, a plaintiff would have to prove that the dog was not on a leash in a negligence per se action compared to a common law negligence action where the plaintiff would have to prove that the dog owner did not act reasonably.
Negligence per se actions can also be effective for cases where injuries occur on an individual or business’s premises. Sometimes a plaintiff may be able to prove violations of building and/or maintenance codes more effectively than the common law negligence elements.
Proving negligence per se is different from common law negligence, and it’s best to hire an attorney who is familiar with negligence per se lawsuits to help make sure that your case meets these standards. Because there are exceptions to the negligence per se rule, a personal injury lawyer can help you navigate the complexities involved with these types of cases. Curcio Law has extensive experience with these cases. Call us at 703-836-3366 or contact us online.
Rakin Hamad joined Curcio Law as an associate in August 2018 after graduating from George Mason Law School. During law school, Rakin demonstrated his dedication to client advocacy and was a member of the trial advocacy association, the pro bono society, and the George Mason Law Review. His approach to the law mirrors the firm’s philosophy of treating each client with commitment, compassion and character. Contact Rakin at email@example.com.
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