When your injury results from someone’s legal violation: Using negligence per se to prove liability
People are injured in accidents every day and the truth is, that many accidents that result in serious injuries are highly preventable. Imagine you are driving down the road when another car runs a stop sign and hits your vehicle.
How will the fact that the other driver broke the law impact your claim against that driver for your injuries and the damage to your vehicle? This is the type of situation that can lead to a case of “negligence per se.” When a person causes an accident because they did not act in a reasonably prudent way, we call this situation “negligence,” and it creates legal liability for the person who acted negligently. If you have ever been in a car accident, you might be familiar with the concept of negligence. Technically, to prove an individual was negligent, you must show that they owed a duty to the injured person, that they breached that duty, and that the injury was directly caused by that breach of duty. In the case of a car accident, an inattentive driver who swerves into your lane and side swipes you was likely negligent. This is because anyone on the road owes a duty to other drivers and to pedestrians to drive in a reasonably prudent manner, by swerving into your lane, they breached that duty, and the damage to your car, as well as the potential injuries suffered will be the result of that breach of duty.
In reality, negligence is sometimes slightly more challenging to prove, especially when both drivers might have been somewhat negligent. Accidents do not occur in a vacuum, and there are usually many factors and variables that lead to an accident. In the case of the driver swerving into your lane, it might be the case that you were speeding, and would otherwise have been able to avoid the accident. However, if you can indicate the other driver violated a law, you might have a case for negligence per se, which would make proving your case a bit simpler. In many cases, the cause of an accident will also be a violation of the law. If the law that was violated was a safety related law that was meant to protect the type of person who was ultimately injured in the accident, the plaintiff will be able to present a negligence per se argument. There are many scenarios where this might come into play. With car accidents, a person texting while driving was likely violating a statute, the same goes for driving while intoxicated, or driving without functioning headlights. This is because laws requiring people to refrain from texting, driving drunk or driving without headlights are typically enacted for the purpose of making driving safer for people on the road. If the negligent driver was in violation of a permitting law, or environmental regulation having to do with vehicle emissions, these types of violations would not be good grounds for a negligence per se argument because they are laws that were not enacted to increase the safety of drivers on the road.
Even with a strong negligence per se argument, the case will not automatically be decided in favor of the plaintiff alleging that the other party was negligent. However, proof that a defendant was in violation of a safety related statute or regulation will be powerful evidence in proving the defendant’s negligence, and it can make the case much easier for a plaintiff to prove.
If you have been injured in an accident, you should consult an attorney to discuss the specifics of your case and to determine the best course of action for you.
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