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Negligence in Personal Injury Law: A Guide to an Essential Legal Concept

Negligence in Personal Injury Law: A Guide to an Essential Legal Concept

Negligence claims form the basis of many personal injury lawsuits. Over the last thirty years, we’ve proved many bad actors’ negligence as we worked to protect our clients’ rights and get them the compensation they deserve. But what exactly counts as negligence in a court of law?

“(Negligence is) a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. The behavior usually consists of actions, but can also consist of omissions when there is some duty to act (e.g., a duty to help victims of one’s previous conduct).”

But the concept of negligence doesn’t really stop there. As personal injury lawyers at Mike Morse Law Firm, we use this definition and many subtle nuances of the term to help our clients receive monetary compensation if they’ve been hurt due to someone else’s negligence. Indeed, negligence in one or more of its forms is at the very core of most lawsuits we litigate. That being the case, we thought it might be helpful to share some additional insights into the various forms of negligence we encounter so you can decide for yourself if the injuries you (or someone you care about) have suffered have merit in court.

How is Negligence Proven?

Let’s begin by describing the four steps required to legally prove you’ve been the victim of someone’s negligence.

  1. Did the defendant have a duty to act in a way that should protect the plaintiff? One example would be that every driver has a duty to obey traffic laws; if the person who hit your car was speeding or otherwise disobeying the rules of the road, you’ve definitely satisfied the first step.
  2. Did the defendant breach their duty? The court will determine whether the defendant behaved as a prudent person would have in the same situation. If not, a “breach” has occurred, and you can go on to step three.
  3. Can you prove the defendant’s breach of duty actually caused your injury? If, for example, their speeding car ran a red light, crashed into your stopped vehicle, and you were seriously hurt in the process, you have some pretty strong proof on your side.
  4. Did you actually suffer injuries or experience damages resulting from the defendant’s actions or lack of actions? In personal injury cases, you can be awarded compensation for negligence only if you’ve truly been hurt physically.

What are Types of Negligence Are Recognized by the Legal System?

Courts generally use the following terms to describe various forms that negligence can take, including Gross NegligenceComparative NegligenceContributory Negligence, and Vicarious Negligence. Medical malpractice suits – which could be considered a form of Professional Negligence – can involve multiple elements of the above-mentioned negligent actions. And Product Liability is yet another area where negligence can come into play if, for instance, innocent people are injured by defective manufactured goods or improperly maintained equipment. Let’s quickly define each of these types of negligence.

What is Gross Negligence?

When people imagine that a defendant has been criminally negligent, this is most likely the kind of negligence they’re thinking about. In Michigan law, Gross Negligence is defined as “conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results.” For example, a driver who is drinking and sending text messages while traveling 96 miles per hour on a 70-mph public highway could face felony charges resulting in up to 15 years in prison if someone is injured or killed due to their grossly negligent behaviors. Michigan judges are given the following guidance when providing instructions to jurors who are being asked to decide a defendant’s gross negligence:

“Gross negligence means more than carelessness. It means willfully disregarding the results to others that might follow from an act or failure to act. In order to find that the defendant was grossly negligent, you must find each of the following three things beyond a reasonable doubt:

First, that the defendant knew of the danger to another… they knew there was a situation that required to take ordinary care to avoid injuring another. Second, that the defendant could have avoided injuring another by using ordinary care. Third, that the defendant failed to use ordinary care to prevent injuring another when, to a reasonable person, it must have been apparent that the result was likely to be serious injury.”

What is Comparative Negligence?

The concept of Comparative Negligence is perhaps the most important form of negligence for Michiganders to understand. That’s because Michigan is one of many states that use what’s called “The 51 Percent Rule” to determine whether someone is entitled to collect any damages in a personal injury suit where negligence is at issue. Basically, this means the court compares the actions of the two parties involved in an injury-related case, and if you’re found to be 51% or more responsible for the accident, you can’t collect damages from the other party. For example, if you make an illegal left turn in front of someone going the opposite direction who’s speeding 26 miles over the posted limit, you and the other driver are both likely to be found responsible for factors leading to the resulting collision. It will be up to the court to determine if you share equal blame for the accident, or if one of you is more culpable than the other. If that recklessly speeding driver is determined to be 51% or more responsible, you’d be eligible to collect compensation under Michigan law even though you were partially at fault for the accident. However, any settlement you win would be reduced by the percentage of your personal responsibility for the incident as determined by the court.

What is Contributory Negligence?

You’ll probably be interested to know that Michigan law doesn’t recognize this legal concept. In fact, just a few states do (among them Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina). Here’s how Contributory Negligence works: If you are injured in an accident and are found in even the smallest way to have contributed to the cause of your injuries, you will not be allowed to seek damages. In the case we described above, the fact that you made an illegal left turn would entirely negate your ability to successfully sue in a state where contributory negligence laws are in place — since your own negligence contributed to the collision.

What is Vicarious Liability?

Vicarious Liability could be considered a form of “shared” negligence where more than one defendant is found to be responsible for damages or injuries to other individuals. A key legal term related to this kind of negligence is “respondeat superior” a Latin phrase that translates to “the master must answer.” This basically means that employers can be held legally responsible for negligent acts committed by their employees. For instance, if a trucking company’s drunk semi driver causes injuries to other motorists, this legal doctrine makes it possible to file suit against the trucking company as well as the person driving the truck. The same concept can be applied to some other situations, too. For example, as Forbes Advisor notes, a parent can sometimes be held liable for a child’s criminal actions such as vandalism, or you could be found responsible for damages caused by a friend or family member who causes an accident while borrowing and operating your vehicle.

What is Professional Negligence?

The most familiar example of Professional Negligence is probably medical malpractice. Doctors and other health care professionals who fail in their duties to patients either by neglecting to provide proper care or by not adhering to accepted professional standards can be accused of this kind of liability. Other professionals are not exempt from having to meet standards in the practice of their businesses either. Lawyers, accountants, pharmacists, stockbrokers, investment advisors, nursing homes, and many other professional license holders fall into this category and are subject to malpractice-based negligence lawsuits.

What is a Class Action or Mass Tort Lawsuit?

This type of legal action generally arises when numerous people are injured by a defective product or harmful medication. Class Actions occur when a problem resulting from a defective product or improperly provided service injures large numbers of people in similar ways. A recent example is the class action suit against financial services tech company Plaid, where the company was accused of selling private consumer data without obtaining permission. Mass Torts happen when injuries are less similar but are all related to the same faulty product or dangerous medication. Ongoing legal cases linking the prescription heartburn drug Zantac to various forms of cancer fall into this category. In both types of lawsuits, the plaintiffs can allege that the defendants were negligent in one or more of the ways we’ve described above.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Negligence Lawsuits?

As we discussed in detail in a previous article, the statute of limitations is a time limit or legal deadline to file a lawsuit for damages. It varies in Michigan depending upon the circumstances in which you were injured. The statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits is three years after the accident took place, but for medical malpractice cases it’s just two years from the date of the alleged incident. Our advice is to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as you find yourself injured, as a delay could cost you the right to sue.

We’d Be Negligent if We Didn’t Give You Our Contact Information!

We realize that these various types of negligence might seem complicated, and Michigan’s No-Fault insurance laws can add another wrinkle to these definitions, rules, and regulations. But that doesn’t mean you need to be confused or worried if you’ve been injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault. Our award-winning team of attorneys is ready to help you navigate the complexities of the legal system whenever you need our help. Just give us a call and we’ll give you precise guidance on getting fair and just compensation for your injuries caused by the negligence or incompetence of others. Our number, as always, is 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946), or click here right now to make an immediate connection with us online.

Negligence in Personal Injury Law: A Guide to an Essential Legal Concept

Content checked by Mike Morse, personal injury attorney with Mike Morse Injury Law Firm. Mike Morse is the founder of Mike Morse Law Firm, the largest personal injury law firm in Michigan. Since being founded in 1995, Mike Morse Law Firm has grown to 150 employees, served 25,000 clients, and collected more than $1 billion for victims of auto, truck and motorcycle accidents. The main office is in Southfield, MI but you can also find us in Detroit, Sterling Heights and many other locations.