Most of the personal injury cases filed in Florida are based on negligence. Negligence is generally defined as failing to act with a level of care that a reasonable person would have used in the same situation. If a person causes injury through negligence, they could be liable for a victim’s injuries, economic losses, and other damages.
Understanding the basic elements of a negligence claim can help you understand what you need to prove to win a personal injury case in Florida.
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What is a Reasonable Person?
The reasonable person in a personal injury case is a hypothetical standard of behavior. A jury decides what a person with reasonable prudence and common sense would have done in a similar situation to the one that confronted the defendant. Therefore, the reasonable person standard can vary depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.
If the jury finds that the defendant’s conduct fell short of the reasonable person standard, it can find that the defendant was negligent. However, proving that a person’s conduct was unreasonable is insufficient to hold them financially liable for damages.
An injury victim must prove all four elements of a negligence claim to hold the defendant financially liable for losses related to an accident.
The Four Elements of a Negligence Claim
When another party injures you, they could be liable for your damages. First, you must prove that:
- The person owed you a duty of care
- The person’s conduct or omissions amounted to a breach of the duty of care
- The breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of your injury
- You sustained damages because of the breach of duty
You must link each of the four elements together to prove causation.
Duty of Care
First, you must show that the person owed you a legal duty of care to avoid injuring you. Duties arise from law and custom and are typically based on two parties’ relationship with one another, e.g., business-invitee, doctor-patient, and drivers to others on the road.
For example, suppose you fell in a store while shopping. The owner owed everyone who entered the store a duty of care to provide safe premises.
Breach of Duty
The next step is to prove the at-fault party breached their duty of care. This element requires you to prove that the party failed to act as a reasonable person and caused you harm.
Returning to our previous example. Let’s assume you fell because there was water on the floor near the deli. The water came from a leaky pipe.
The owner should have repaired the pipe and placed warnings around the area. A reasonable person certainly would have. However, the store owner did neither of those things. Therefore, a jury might find that the owner breached the duty of care.
You must show the defendant’s conduct directly and proximately caused your injuries. You must offer proof that your injury would not have occurred had it not been for the defendant’s conduct. Moreover, you must have had foreseeable injuries and losses.
Was your fall caused by the store owner’s breach of duty? Had the water not been on the floor, it is unlikely you would have slipped and fell. Therefore, the owners’ breach of duty was a direct cause of your fall.
Provided that you sustained damages, you should be entitled to compensation from the store’s owner under the theory of negligence.
The above example is a simple case of negligence. Unfortunately, most negligence cases are much more complicated.
Establishing the cause of the injury and proving that the at-fault party’s conduct caused the injury may require extensive investigation and research. In some cases, expert witnesses may be required to testify about how an accident occurred and why the defendant’s conduct was a direct cause of the accident.
What Are Damages in a Negligence Claim?
Damages include the physical injuries that a person sustains because of the accident. They also contain the financial losses and non-economic damages caused by the accident.
Types of damages available in a personal injury claim include:
- The cost of diagnosing and treating injuries
- Physical pain and suffering
- The loss of income and benefits, including reductions in future earning potential
- Mental anguish and emotional distress
- Disfigurement, disabilities, and impairments
- Loss of enjoyment of life and decreased quality of life
The value of the damages in a negligence case depends on the person’s injuries and financial losses. How much an injury claim is worth also depends on many other factors, including whether the victim could be partially to blame for the cause of the injury and the availability of insurance coverage.
How Long Do I Have to File a Negligence Claim?
Most personal injury cases have either a two-year or a four-year deadline under Florida’s statute of limitations. The state recently changed the law in this area. The two-year deadline is for accidents occurring on or after March 24th, 2023, and the four-year time limit is for those occurring before that date. This deadline applies in most cases involving:
However, the statute of limitations is different for wrongful death claims and medical malpractice, which is generally two years. There may be other exceptions as well, depending on the facts of the case.
Contact Our Florida Personal Injury Lawyers for a Free Consultation
If you have been injured, we want to help. Contact our Clearwater law office to schedule your free consultation with one of our Florida personal injury attorneys at (727) 796-8282. We provide an honest assessment of your case while answering your questions about injury laws in Florida.