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Negligence Under California Law

Accidents do not just happen. If you look closely at the events and activities leading up to an accident, usually you will find there was someone who was in some way responsible for the accident occurring. In a slip and fall accident, it may be the person who failed to put up a sign indicating a wet floor. In a dog bite, it may have been the person who allowed the dog to be off of its lease. In cases involving defective products, it may have been someone who was supposed to order further safety testing, or the company that failed to list warnings on the package. In all of these types of cases and others involving personal injuries, someone did something or did not do something that, in the end, was responsible for another party being injured. Under California law, this is referred to as negligence.

Negligence in Personal Injury Cases

Under Section 3333 of the California Civil Code, injured parties may file a personal injury lawsuit against at-fault parties for, as it is written in the code, “breach of obligation not arising from contract”. What this means is that the shopkeeper, the dog owner, and the product seller and manufacturer in the examples above all failed in their obligation to not be a danger to others. Section 401 of the California Civil Jury Instructions talks about a basic standard of care, which is a duty we have to not put ourselves or others in danger. The jury instructions define negligence as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent any harm or injuries from occurring, and it is the reasonableness aspect that is at the root of personal injury cases. Ask yourself this question: What would a reasonably careful person do or not do under the same circumstances?

  • Would a reasonable person get behind the wheel of a car after having half a dozen or more drinks in a short span of time? They would not, and the driver who does so would likely be found negligent.
  • Would a reasonable person, knowing there was a torn section of carpeting in their store or lobby that people could potentially trip over, fail to have it fixed? Most of us would consider it a priority to fix or repair it before someone got hurt, and failing to fix it is negligent.
  • Would a reasonable person expect a surgeon to operate on the wrong body part, or fail to diagnose a serious and fairly obvious medical condition? We expect surgeons and doctors to know what they are doing, and those who do not and continue to treat patients are often found guilty of negligence in medical malpractice cases.

Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit on the Basis of Negligence

If you have been injured and are wondering if you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit to get compensation for your injuries, the California jury instructions may provide some guidance. Section 400 of the instructions indicates that a party who brings a personal injury lawsuit on the basis of negligence needs to show three things:

  1. That the at-fault party was negligent;
  2. That the person filing the lawsuit was harmed; and
  3. That the at-fault party’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing harm to the injured person.

If you suspect you have a claim based on someone else’s negligent conduct or have questions about filing a personal injury lawsuit, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss the details of your particular case.

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