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Personal Injury Law in California: How is Negligence Defined

A serious accident can disrupt your entire life. Beyond the stacks of medical bills that need to be paid, you may be forced to take time off from work in order to recover from your injuries. You could also be dealing with significant pain and suffering. Through a personal injury claim, you can take action to hold the at-fault party legally responsible for your damages. 

In California, personal injury liability is generally based on the legal theory of negligence. To hold a defendant at fault for your injuries, you must prove that their negligent conduct contributed to the accident. You may be wondering: What constitutes negligence? Here, our Stockton personal injury attorneys provide an overview of how negligence is defined under California law. 

Background: The Essential Elements of Personal Injury Claim in California 

If you are filing a personal injury claim on the basis of negligence, there are certain elements that you must prove in order to establish liability. As enumerated in the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI No. 400), a plaintiff in a negligence-based personal injury lawsuit must prove the following three things: 

  1. The defendant acted in a negligent manner; 
  2. They (plaintiff) suffered actual harm; and
  3. The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing that harm. 

Defining Negligence in a Personal Injury Claim in California 

As defined by California courts, negligence is the breach of a legal duty of care. Put another way, it is the failure to act as safely as one should have given the specific context of a situation. As noted previously, negligence leads to being legally liable when it is the proximate cause (legal cause) of a person’s injuries. You may be wondering: How do you determine what constitutes proper care? The answer depends entirely on the circumstances. 

In the case of Coyle v. Historic Mission Inn Corp. a California state court explains that our state’s courts have generally applied “no standard of care for tort liability more precise than that of a reasonably prudent person under like circumstances.” This is the most operative definition of negligence in a personal injury claim in California. A defendant can be held legally liable for an accident if they acted in a manner that is more dangerous than a reasonably prudent person would have acted in a similar situation. 

If you were injured in a multi-vehicle crash in Stockton, you can hold another driver legally liable for the collision if you can prove that their negligence substantially contributed to the accident. To establish negligence on the part of that driver, you must prove that they acted in a manner less safe than a reasonably prudent driver would have acted. For example, a driver texting-and-driving is clearly negligent. A reasonably prudent driver would obey California’s anti-texting-and-driving law. 

California Follows a Pure Comparative Negligence Standard 

Not all accidents are straightforward. It is not uncommon for two or more parties to each bear some level of responsibility for a serious accident. In fact, injured victims may sometimes be held partially responsible for their own accident. California follows a pure comparative negligence standard for personal injury claims. Under this type of legal standard, each party to an accident will be held legally responsible for their share of the fault. For this reason, it is imperative that all serious accidents are carefully investigated to determine exactly why they happened. 

As an example, imagine that you were injured in a slip and fall accident at a grocery store in Stockton. In total, you sustained $26,000 in medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. After an investigation, it is determined that the store employees left a spill unaddressed despite having ample time to clean it up. However, it is also determined that you were running in the store. If you were assigned 10 percent responsibility for your own accident—due to partial negligence—you would be legally responsible for 10 percent of your own damages, or $2,600. 

Call Our Stockton Personal Injury Attorneys Today

At Redkey Gordon Law Corp, our Stockton personal injury work tirelessly to help injured victims get justice and full financial compensation. If you have any questions or concerns about negligence, we are more than ready to help. Contact us now to arrange your free, no-commitment case review. From our law offices in Stockton, we provide personal injury representation throughout all of Central California, including in San Joaquin County, Sacramento County, and Stanislaus County