What Is Negligence?

What Is Negligence?

Negligence is a legal term that means carelessness that causes injury to someone else.

The classic example of someone dropping a banana peel on the floor and causing someone else to suffer an accident is comical.

Nevertheless, it could be a real example of negligence. More common examples include driving recklessly or engaging in slipshod manufacturing practices.  

Ordinary Negligence

Ordinary negligence is the most common form of negligence that generates personal injury claims. It consists of four legal elements—duty of care, breach of duty, harm, and causation. You must prove every one of these elements to win a personal injury claim based on ordinary negligence.

Duty of Care

Except for children, everyone owes a duty of ordinary care to everyone else. This principle means that you shouldn’t tailgate the car in front of you while driving. It means that you act reasonably to protect the people around you from physical injury in your everyday life. For most people, this just means exercising common sense.

If you are a trained professional, you must observe a more demanding duty of care while practicing your profession. A classic example of this concept is medical treatment. Doctors must exercise a stringent duty of care toward their patients. Sometimes it can be quite challenging to determine the exact duty of care that applies in a given situation.

Breach of Duty

You breach your duty of care when you fail to meet its demands. You can breach your duty of care in two different ways. The first way is to do something you shouldn’t have done, such as driving while intoxicated. The second way is to fail to do something that you should have done,  such as warn visitors to your home of dangers on your property

Harm (Damages)

In a personal injury context, “harm” means some type of injury that the law can redress through the payment of monetary compensation. The consequences of the harm do not have to be tangible. Your physical pain, for example, is intangible; but a court is capable of placing a monetary value on it.


To win a personal injury claim, you must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty caused the harm you suffered. You will not win your claim if you cannot prove a causal relationship between breach of duty and harm. The law recognizes two types of causation—cause in fact and proximate cause.

Cause in Fact

Cause in fact is the simplest form of causation. It means that if the defendant had not breached their duty, you would not have suffered any harm. You might lose a personal injury claim against a drunk driver who hit you, for example, if the driver can prove that the accident would have occurred even if they had been driving sober.

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause exists when the causal relationship between the defendant’s breach of duty and the harm you suffered is so close that the defendant should have foreseen the harm.

Negligence Per Se

Negligence per se is a shortcut to proving that the defendant was negligent. It applies when the defendant violated a public safety law or regulation. Under ordinary negligence, lawyers might argue whether a particular action was or was not negligent. If the defendant violated a safety law or regulation, there is no longer much room for argument. The defendant acted negligently. 

Acting negligently alone is not enough to establish the defendant’s liability. You must also prove harm, and you must prove that the defendant’s negligence caused that harm. That is why negligence per se is a shortcut to establishing liability, not an automatic victory for your claim.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence applies when more than one party is at fault for an accident. This sharing of fault is typical in car accidents. The way Florida solves this problem is to apportion liability on a percentage basis.

If the accident was 20% Charlotte’s fault and 80% Bob’s fault, for example, Charlotte loses 20% of her damages and must pay 20% of Bob’s damages. Bob loses 80% of his damages and must pay 80% of Charlotte’s damages. This system is known as “modified comparative negligence,” which is the system that Florida uses. Florida’s system also has a 51% recovery bar in place, so accident victims cannot recover compensation if they were mostly to blame for their injuries.

Gross Negligence

Gross negligence” means extreme negligence. Since proving ordinary negligence is not enough to win punitive damages, for example, you must prove that the defendant acted with gross negligence or intentional misconduct. Under most circumstances, this is difficult to do.

Criminal Negligence 

Criminal negligence applies in criminal cases. Although its meaning is similar to gross negligence, the consequences (in a criminal trial) are different. A defendant guilty of criminal negligence might go to jail, while a defendant who acted with ordinary negligence risks only a lawsuit.

A Gainesville Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Evaluate Your Claim

Most personal injury lawyers in Gainesville, Florida, offer free initial consultations. If you think you have a negligence claim, take advantage of the offer to determine whether your claim is viable and estimate how much it might be worth. Contact or call our personal injury lawyers from Allen Law Firm, P.A. at (877) 255-3652 to set up your initial consultation today.