Common Personal Injury Terms: What You Should Know About General Negligence

In tort law, negligence occurs when one party (a person, company, or other type of entity) fails to use reasonable care, which results in injury to another. People, as well as companies and other entities, have a legal responsibility to take into account any potential harm that they may cause to another person.

Intentional or unintentional behavior may result in negligence, and those who fail to act with reasonable care could be held legally liable for their actions, even if they didn’t mean to harm another person.

Elements of Negligence Claims

When a personal injury claim is filed, the plaintiff must be able to prove what are known as “elements” of negligence. In most jurisdictions, there are four elements in negligence claims:


The first element in determining negligence is known as duty or duty of care. In personal injury law, there must be some sort of legal responsibility (or legal duty) that the defendant owed to the plaintiff.

Breach of Duty

In addition to determining any legally responsibility, the plaintiff must also prove that the duty was breached. In other words, the plaintiff must show that the defendant failed to act with reasonable care. In most cases, a jury decides whether or not a breach has occurred.


The plaintiff must then be able to prove that the breach of duty resulted in injury or harm. Damages may include physical injury to the person or their property as well as psychological or emotional injuries.


The plaintiff must also prove that the defendant’s actions (or failure to act) were the cause of their injuries. Two types of causation typically exist in personal injury claims involving negligence: (1) factual causation and (2) proximate cause.

What Are Damages?

In tort law, “damages” include the monetary value or remedy paid to the plaintiff as compensation for their injuries. In cases involving negligence, damages are often awarded based on the severity of injury, harm or loss suffered by the plaintiff.

Compensatory damages (are the most common form of damages awarded and are designed to make the person “whole.” Likewise, compensatory damages put a dollar amount on the plaintiff’s injuries and generally cover all losses, including lost wages, medical bills, cost of repairs incurred due to property damage as well as any other costs or expenses related to the injury.

If compensatory damages do not adequately compensate the plaintiff, the court may also award punitive damages to punish the defendant for any conduct considered to be egregious or atrocious. Punitive damages are often assessed to keep the defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct in the future.

What Can Happen If Someone is Negligent and an Injury Occurs?

When a person or company is negligent and causes harm to another, personal injury law attempts to ensure that the party responsible for the injury compensates the injured party for damages. Compensation for injuries is not limited to physical harm and may include emotional, economic, or reputational injuries as well as violations of privacy, property, or constitutional rights.

Personal injury lawyers provide legal representation to those who claim to have been injured, physically or psychologically. Personal injury lawyers can assist victims in a number of ways, including interviewing witnesses, recreating the scene, requesting medical expert testimony, obtaining police documentation, communicating with other lawyers and insurance companies, and negotiating on the behalf of victims.