How to Prove Negligence in a Personal Injury Case

A personal injury case is a legal dispute that arises when a person suffers harm due to an accident or injury, and someone else might be legally responsible for that harm. These cases are civil in nature, meaning the injured parties, also known as plaintiffs, seek monetary compensation from those who are responsible for the harm.

The parties responsible for the harm are referred to as defendants, and the plaintiff must prove negligence by the defendant. The compensation is meant to make the plaintiff “whole” again, or as close to their pre-accident state as possible, from a financial perspective.

Personal cases fall under tort law. A tort is a legal term for a wrongful act that results in injury to another’s person, property, or reputation, for which the injured party may seek legal redress. A tort does not necessarily involve an illegal action, but rather may simply be a negligent act leading to harm.

What is Negligence?

Negligence is a legal term referring to the failure to exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in a similar situation, leading to harm or injury to another person. It is a crucial concept in personal injury law where it serves as the basis for holding individuals or organizations legally accountable for the damages they cause.

The concept of negligence revolves around the duty of every person to act responsibly and avoid putting others at risk. Negligence can apply to a person’s actions or omissions. Some examples of negligent behavior in a personal injury case include:

  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Driving aggressively, failing to stop at stop signs, running red lights, or otherwise violating Texas traffic laws
  • Driving an 18-wheeler on little to no sleep or driving without proper training
  • Failing to clean or properly mark a hazardous spill in the grocery store aisle
  • Failing to maintain a stairwell or elevator, leading to injury
  • Failing to secure an aggressive dog that has escaped from its enclosure in the past

How To Prove Negligence

Most civil lawsuits for injuries allege the defendant was negligent. To win a negligence lawsuit, the injury victim must establish four elements: 1) the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim, 2) they breached their duty of care, 3) the breach caused the injury, and 4) the victim suffered damages.

  • Duty:  The defendant, or the wrongdoer, owed a legal duty to the plaintiff under the circumstances. This typically involves the expectation of responsible, prudent behavior to prevent harm.
  • Breach:  It must be proven that the defendant breached this duty, by action or omission, failing to meet the standard of care expected in the given situation.
  • Causation:  The plaintiff must demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between the defendant’s breach and the injury. It must be clear that the injury was a direct result of the defendant’s negligence, and would not have occurred without it.
  • Damages:  Finally, there must be demonstrable damages or harm that the plaintiff has suffered as a result of the defendant’s negligence. This could be physical injury, financial loss, or emotional distress.

Under Texas negligence laws, a plaintiff seeking to establish liability and secure a civil, monetary recovery must successfully establish all four of these elements.

Duty of Care

Duty of Care” refers to the responsibility or legal obligation of a person or organization to avoid behaviors or actions that could potentially harm others. It’s the first element that a plaintiff needs to establish to proceed with a negligence claim.

For instance, drivers have a duty of care to other road users to operate their vehicles safely, and a company might have a duty of care to dispose of waste responsibly to prevent environmental harm. The specific level of duty of care can vary depending on the circumstances, but the fundamental expectation is that people should always behave in a manner that does not put others at unreasonable risk.

Breach of Duty of Care

A “Breach of Duty of Care” occurs when an individual or organization fails to uphold their duty of care, resulting in harm to another person. In essence, it means that the standard of care that was expected in a given situation was not met.

For example, if a driver chooses to speed in a residential area, they are breaching their duty of care because they are not operating their vehicle safely, as is expected of them. Similarly, if a company does not follow proper waste disposal protocols and pollutes the environment, it has breached its duty of care.

To prove a breach of duty in a negligence claim, it must be demonstrated that the defendant’s actions, or lack thereof, fell below the standard of care that a reasonable person would have maintained under the same circumstances.


Causation” refers to the relationship between the defendant’s negligent action (or inaction) and the plaintiff’s injury or harm. It is a critical element that the plaintiff must establish in a negligence lawsuit. Essentially, the plaintiff must prove that their injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s negligent behavior. This is often referred to as “but-for” causation.

For instance, if a driver was texting while driving and hit a pedestrian, the pedestrian must demonstrate that their injuries would not have occurred but for the driver’s negligent act of texting while driving. In some cases, causation can be a complex issue, especially in instances where multiple factors may have contributed to the injury.

However, it is vital to understand that establishing causation alone is not sufficient to prove negligence; all four elements—duty, breach, causation, and damages—must be demonstrated for a successful negligence claim.


Damages” in a personal injury case refers to the tangible and intangible losses suffered by the plaintiff as a direct result of the defendant’s negligence. It is the fourth critical element in proving negligence. Damages are typically categorized into three types, as discussed below:

  • Special Damages:  These are quantifiable monetary losses that the plaintiff suffered due to the injury. Special damages are unique to each case and will vary depending on the specific circumstances. They can include medical expenses, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, property damage, and any out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of the injury.
  • General Damages:  Unlike special damages, these are non-monetary harms that do not have a direct dollar value. They include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium or companionship (in wrongful death claims), and diminished quality of life. As these losses are subjective and differ from person to person, calculating general damages can be complex.
  • Punitive Damages:  These are not compensatory but are designed to punish the defendant and deter them and others from engaging in similar behavior in the future. Punitive damages are awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious or reckless. They are not awarded in every case, and the standards for awarding punitive damages vary by jurisdiction.

In a successful negligence lawsuit, the plaintiff can potentially recover all three types of damages, depending on the circumstances of the case and the laws of the relevant jurisdiction. The plaintiff must provide evidence to support their claim for damages, which can include medical bills, receipts, wage statements, and more. Remember, proving damages is just as important as establishing the other elements of negligence—duty, breach, and causation.

Types of Personal Injury Cases

There are multiple types of personal injury cases:

No matter what type of accident occurs, a personal injury lawyer can help. Though car accidents are the most common, an attorney specializing in personal injury can help you navigate the aftermath of any kind of injury accident.

How A Personal Injury Attorney Can Help Prove Negligence

If another person’s negligence caused your injuries, Thompson Law can help. A personal injury lawyer can help you get compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages. Call us today for a FREE CONSULTATION to discuss your legal rights and options.

Personal Injury Lawyer FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is negligence?

Negligence means that another person’s actions or inaction caused the accident that led to your injuries. Negligence spans a broad spectrum of behavior, including drunk driving, failure to make premises reasonably safe, failure to keep a dog on a leash, failure to properly secure an 18-wheeler’s load, and countless other instances.

Do negligence laws vary by state?

Yes, negligence laws vary by state in the United States. States primarily adopt one of two systems to determine negligence:  1) contributory negligence or 2) comparative negligence. Contributory negligence completely bars the plaintiff from recovery if they are found to be in any way at fault, no matter how minimal their contribution to the incident was. Conversely, comparative negligence allows a plaintiff to recover even if they are partially at fault, with the understanding that their recovery will be reduced by their percentage of fault.

Do I really need a lawyer to help prove negligence?

Yes. An attorney specializing in personal injury will help you gather compelling evidence and clear documentation to prove you deserve compensation after your accident. This involves investigating your case, proving negligence, calculating damages, and negotiating a fair settlement.

What are some common causes of car accidents in Texas?

Common causes of car accidents in Texas include drunk driving, texting or talking while driving, speeding, tailgating, and aggressive driving or road rage. While drivers are often tempted to multitask, even a few seconds of distraction can cause a severe or even fatal crash.

How can a personal injury attorney help?

A personal injury attorney can handle the complex process of a personal injury lawsuit while you focus on relief and recovery. Your lawyer will investigate your accident, talk to the insurance company, negotiate a fair settlement, and estimate your damages. Sometimes, your lawyer will take your case to court.

Who determines fault in a Texas accident?

Deciding fault might look different in each case. Liability depends on the unique details of your accident and whether you choose to pursue a personal injury lawsuit. Law enforcement and insurance adjusters make specific judgment calls regarding fault, but if you sue for personal injury, the courts will ultimately decide.

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State law limits the time you have to file a claim after an auto accident. If you have been injured in an accident, call now to get the help you need.